Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Change in Plans...

After much consideration, we have decided to stop walking. The problem with Greg's leg seems to be the tendon, and it clearly needs rest, so in an effort to prevent a worse problem or greater damage, we're calling day 12 our last. However, there are still important components of Ignatius' journey and Jesuit history that we very much want to see and experience, so we plan to reach each of them by train. From Tudela we have taken the train to Zaragoza, which is a large city; we will then visit another large city, Lerida. On our way to Barcelona we will also stop in Verdu, which is the birthplace of early Jesuit Peter Claver (we saw his home and the place where he died in Cartagena, Colombia last year, so we particularly want to make this stop in Verdu). We will also still make day visits to Montserrat (where there is an incredible Benedictine monastery) and Manresa (where Ignatius spent a number of months articulating the Spiritual Exercises). Due to this significant change in our plans, we will no longer blog each individual day, but we will post some commentary about our visits to Verdu, Montserrat, and Manresa.

Though we are disappointed at not being able to hike as far as originally planned, we are still very committed to raising what money we can for the Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador where we have both served as short term volunteers - we've discussed this objective on the page "Donations for our Miles" as well. We have found a donor who will match the donations we raise, up to $2,500. At this point, $1,100 has been raised for the WBC, so we are hoping to raise an additional $1,400. Any contribution, no matter how big or small, truly makes a difference for this incredible organization. For example: $25 feeds one person at the WBC for a little more than 3 months - the center serves 2,000 people and provides each member with 3 meals per day, 6 days per week, 52 weeks per year. In addition to the meal program, donations provide educational materials to the grammar schools and daycare, medical supplies to the health clinics, supplies to the vocational education programs, and resources to the center libraries. We and the WBC would be incredibly grateful for any contribution you might be able to make. Please make all donations here.

A few more posts on our visits to the last few camino sights will be forthcoming, and we will still post pictures to the picasa account when we have access to upload them (likely not until we return to the States). Thank you for following our journey!

Day 12: Alfaro to Tudela (July 13)

We rose early again this morning and Greg felt his leg was much improved from yesterday, so we departed, moving at a great pace, mainly along a highway, for the first hour or so. At that point we passed through a small town called Castejon and beyond town found a gravel road along the railroad tracks that we would follow for some distance. We've reported some of our challenges with flies in past posts, and there have been occasional attacks by gnats, but today both of those obstacles seemed minor in comparison to the mosquitoes that descended upon us while we walked this gravel road. At some point while we were navigating this uneven terrain and frantically swatting the bugs, Greg's leg really started to act up again. About halfway to our destination we ascended a bridge and crossed the railroad tracks...this gave us a nice opportunity to rest, and we were delighted to find that the road on the other side of the bridge was paved. This last portion of the walk was quite difficult for Greg, and we started to realize that we really needed to evaluate our gameplan for the coming days. Our total distance again today was about 25 km.

Arriving in Tudela, we found our hotel and had to wait a bit for our room, so we had coffee and bocadillos in the hotel cafe while we waited. Later that afternoon, after we were all settled in and rested, we walked to a nearby plaza to meet Jaime at a bar called Gilligan's. Jaime is one of the Jesuits who has been working to develop the Camino Ignaciano. Over drinks we talked about our camino experience and the recent challenges with Greg's leg, and we heard about the extensive work the Jaime has done to develop the route that Camino Ignaciano takes. From the bar, Jaime brought us to the high school where he is director and gave us a tour of their extensive facility.

Later that evening, we met up with Jaime again in order to attend the mass he was saying at the local Jesuit parish. Then, we scooted back to the school so he could stamp our credentials, and we enjoyed dinner at the Jesuit residence. Back at the hotel, we planned to take the train instead of walking the next day so that Greg's leg could rest and we considered our options for the remainder of the camino. More details to follow in a subsequent post.

Day 11: Calahorra to Alfaro (July 12)

Bright and early we headed out, winding our way through town and back to the cathedral that we had found yesterday. From there we quickly found the road that would lead us out of town, and in short time we were on a paved (!) farm road that led us east. We followed this road for some time, weaving through fields and walking beside a segment of river. About 8 km into our day, Greg quite suddenly developed a pain in his right quad, just above the knee. It seemed a little odd, but we continued on, reaching the town of Rincon de Soto, which was our halfway point so we stopped in a park to refill water and eat a granola bar. Beyond this town we followed a gravel farm road alongside the railroad tracks for another 10 km or so. During this time Greg's leg continued to get worse, and though he hadn't heard any sort of pop or felt a particular cause for the pain, it was increasingly difficult for him to walk. Finally we reached Alfaro and were glad to find our hotel on the near edge if town. Our total distance today was 25 km.

Once we completed our usual settling in routine, we walked into town to find lunch. Fortunately, With the backpack off and the short distance we had to walk, Greg's leg felt a little better. We found a little restaurant close to one of the churches and enjoyed the menu of the day, and then we explored the city a little more, snapping a few pictures, before going back to the hotel for a rest.

Later in the evening, we headed out again in search of a pharmacy, which we found without a problem. When Greg described his leg problem to the woman there, she quickly understood that the cause was excessive exercise and gave him an ointment that would help the stressed area of his leg. From there we found the office of tourism to get our credential stamped and returned to our hotel, as we hoped to be in good enough shape to head out early in the morning.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Day 10: Alcanadre to Calahorra (July 11)

Short and sweet! This day really flew by! After we departed the train station and returned the keys at the bar, we scooted out of Alcanadre along the first of many gravel and dirt roads. We made our way up and over a hill and found our way down such that we were walking on a side road along a main highway. The highlight of this section of the way was the many, many bunnies that we saw...they darted across the road, through fields, and in and out of holes...there were seriously tons of them! And, they were almost as cute as the ones who routinely play leap-bunny with one another in our yard at home. Eventually, we crossed to the other side of the highway, walked along the train tracks for a while and down a very long gravel/dirt road before returning to pavement. From there we quite suddenly saw our destination city of Calahorra before us. Upon entering the city, we turned down several streets, navigating through the usual collection of apartment buildings, and a short time later we reached our hotel, which was located quite close to the city center. Our walk today totaled about 20 km.

As we waited for our room to be ready, we enjoyed a cafe
con leche at the hotel bar. Settled in our room and cleaned up, we enjoyed a delicious menu of he day at a nearby restaurant. Interestingly, the Spanish seem to have a certain affinity for pre-packaged ice cream cones, pops, and sandwiches of all varieties (ice cream novelties in American grocery stores). I've certainly enjoyed this extensive availability of ice cream products, but a truly funny moment came when we ordered ice cream for dessert at lunch today and our waiter walked to a nearby shop, purchased the pre-packaged cones, and then presented them to us on plates :).

After lunch we took a walk around, looking for someone to stamp our credential (all the offices seemed to be closed), taking pictures of the churches (strangely, the cathedral is located on the outskirts of town and down the hill, so that was a tiny hike), and gearing up for a nap. A lovely nap later, we stepped out again and again failed to find anyone to stamp the credential (fortunately our hotel would be able to do it). We picked up some fruit and granola bars at the grocery store for a walking snack tomorrow and quickly decided it was bedtime.

Day 9: Logrono to Alcanadre (July 10)

Knowing that we had quite a way to go today, we began walking just after 6 am. Our hotel was situated at the east side of Logrono, so we only had a short walk until we were outside the city. To start our walk today, we prayed the rosary, which proved to be a particularly relaxing and intentional way to start. From the edge of town, we walked along paved and gravel roads, passed farm after farm, and were passed by several bikers before reaching a highway. At the highway, we made a quick stop at a gas station for Ruth to use the restroom. When we continued on, we passed 3 Santiago pilgrims in a rather short distance. At this stage in our camino, we are still walking in the opposite direction as Santiago, but that camino has several branches and we only overlap with two branches now instead of three as when we walked yesterday - the most popular Santiago branch, Frances, no longer overlaps with us, and thus we expect to see fewer pilgrims. One of the pilgrims we passed today, Xavier, was rather chatty and told us about the pilgrim hostels in our upcoming cities; he even took our picture to remember our meeting :). After departing from Xavier, we passed through one small town, Agoncillo, and shortly reached another, Arrubal, which was our halfway point, where we stopped in the square for a rest and a water refill.

Since we had had such a positive experience with the sandals yesterday, we tried wearing them again today, this time with the addition of our boot insoles for added support. Though things started off well, Greg only lasted a few kilometers before a calf cramp encouraged him to revert back to the boots. Ruth lasted a bit longer, but switched back to boots shortly after passing Arrubal, as a knee ache was becoming a bit of a problem.

From Arrubal, we jointly followed the train tracks and the river until we reached our final destination of Alcanadre. The way was long and comprised mostly of one gravel road after another, passing numerous vineyards and olive groves as we went, but we made it to Alcanadre in time for a substantial lunch. In total we walked 32 km today. Upon entering this small town at the railway station, we found directions to the town hall where we easily got our credential stamped, and the woman there gave us directions to the bar/restaurant where we could have lunch and get the keys to the pilgrim hostel. We found the bar with no problem, had the menu of the day for lunch and headed back to the train station with keys, as the old train station serves as the pilgrim hostel. Inside, the rooms were on the second floor and the accommodations were basic with several rooms with bunkbeds and another room with a couch, but open windows allowed a nice breeze through and it was a good place to sleep after a long day.

We spent some time resting for the afternoon and then made our way back into town in the early evening. At the pharmacy we picked up some medicated cough drops for Ruth's cough, which had gotten progressively worse over the preceding days, and at the grocery store, we picked up bread and meat to make bocadillos for dinner, water for the night and next day, and oranges for a snack on our hike tomorrow. Back at the train station, we enjoyed dinner outside, and then welcomed our hostel-mate, Eduardo, who had biked 75 km that day against the wind. Shortly after that, we settled into our bright red bunkbeds for a good night sleep (that was only occasionally interrupted by passing trains!).

Day 8: Navarrete to Logrono (July 9)

Though our walk was short today, we started early in order to finish early and be prepared for tomorrow, which is long and will require an early start to beat the heat (the sun is most intense from 3-6 pm). Only a short distance outside Navarrete, we crossed paths with a Santiago pilgrim who was understandably confused that we were walking in the opposite direction. Over the course of the morning it was interesting and encouraging to pass by many more pilgrims - though they were all walking in the opposite direction as us, it's really cool to know that there are others having experiences similar to our own.

In observing these other pilgrims, it was interesting to see that some seemed to be carrying much more than us (sleeping bags, bed rolls, stuffed backpacks that presumably contained more clothes than we chose to bring, one guy had a ukulele in a drawstring bag on his chest, another guy had a full blown guitar on his back on top of a backpack!, another had an accordion strung across his chest - perhaps these musicians are the evening entertainment at their hostels ), and other pilgrims certainly had less (only a camelback bag that holds water, a tiny drawstring backpack that looked nearly empty). While we have spent time discarding superfluous items from our own bags in order to reduce weight, overall it seems that we have hit a sort of middle ground in terms of the things we schlep with us each day. Our biggest source of weight is definitely water, particular because we pass through a limited number of towns and not all of the towns we do pass through have water pumps where we can refill...this is a big difference between our Camino Ignaciano and the Camino Santiago: Santiago passes by many more places where water can be refilled, therefore pilgrims don't have to lug as much with them throughout the day. Another big thing we noticed among these other pilgrims was the wide range of footwear they sported...some had boots like ours, others had tennis shoes of some variety, and still others wore sandals with socks for added protection. Inspired by the sandal concept, we decided to give it a try for our walk today with our relatively enclosed and supportive sandals on with socks. This made our feet so much lighter and pace rather quicker....perhaps we've discovered an important camino secret here.

Our walk to Logono was primarily along a paved path that wound among trees and meandered through a big, beautiful park where there were picnic and barbecue areas, a snack stand, lots of green space, and much path space for walking, running, and biking. We made it to the outskirts of Logrono in about 2 hours and then walked through much of the city before reaching our hotel. Today we traveled about 14 km. Once we were checked in, showered, and done with laundry, we stopped at the cafe across the street for a coffee and then wound our way back through the city to take it all in.

We had a few things on our to do list for the afternoon, including a purchase of deodorant and ibuprofen, finding the Jesuit church in order to get our credential stamped, and purchasing a European adapter instead of the bulky converter/adapter combo we had brought along. The first two items were pretty easy to check off the list at a grocery store and pharmacy; the Jesuit church was a bit of a walk but easy enough to find; and we browsed several shops in pursuit of an adapter. We were lucky to arrive at the Jesuit church just minutes before the noon daily mass started, and since we couldn't find anyone to stamp the credentials, we opted to attend mass. Following the mass we tracked down the priest to stamp our credentials - he was a lovely bumbling fellow, and after much searching for his automatic stamper (which he never found), he let us select which rubber stamp we wanted in our credentials. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for a lunch of calamari, bocadillos, and coke light; we also found a delicious Venetian ice cream shop where Ruth had trufa and strachiatella and Greg had nata and chocolate.

After our afternoon rest back at the hotel, we were able to find a hardware store that sold an adapter, and we had one more round of ice cream for dinner; this time Ruth had strachiatella and mint chip, and Greg had lemon and strawberry. Delicious!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day 7: Laguardia to Navarrete (July 8)

In preparation for upcoming days that will be longer and hotter, we rose early this morning and began walking just before 7 am. We quickly left Laguardia and after a couple of turns found ourselves on a gravel road that led past one vineyard and then another and then another, on and on until we reached the town of La Puebla de Labarca. After navigating through town, we opted to stay on the more direct highway to get to the next town, instead of following the GPS off to another gravel road. We passed several more vineyards on our way, including some that appeared to grow more than just grapes, and we paused a couple of times to snap some pictures of this beautiful countryside and the grape vines that it has such an abundance of. The highway led us directly into Fuenmayor, and from there we quickly met up with the highway again, following it toward Navarrete. We passed under a major highway and then turned off our road onto a gravel one that wound us around the base of a hill and into Navarrete.

As we entered Navarrete, we joined other pilgrims, all clad with backpacks, walking sticks, and a certain level of exhaustion. We hadn't seen other pilgrims during the past week, so this was a very clear sign that we had reached the point in our route during which we would overlap paths with the Camino Santiago; however, our route will lead us in the opposite direction as these other pilgrims.

Today was pretty efficient, as we covered 17 km and reached our hotel in Navarrete by 10:30 am. Perhaps it was also a lucky day for us - not only did the hotel say we could have our room after waiting only one hour, but also there was a 1 pm mass scheduled at the church! As we waited for our room to be ready, we enjoyed a cafe con leche and a little sunshine, which is pretty awesome when you're not walking and toting a backpack :).

Following a quick shower, we found ourselves in front of the church and standing alongside a group of priests, who were themselves pilgrims on the Camino Santiago and were enjoying some lunch. Never shy, Greg approached them and learned that they are seminarians from the fact, two of them are from Wisconsin! They started their camino in France and will walk almost 500 miles in total to reach Santiago de Compostela. Inside the church, we were truly impressed by the endless amounts of gold that decorate the entire altar a subtle tribute to the church's location, all the pillars are decorated with vines and vines of golden grapes. We enjoyed mass, though Greg certainly understands more than Ruth, and then made our way out to find bocadillos (big sandwiches) and coke lights for lunch.

Lunch led to some rest time, which allowed Greg to tend to an aching neck/shoulder. Fortunately, our hotel bathroom included a bathtub (certainly a treat), so he was able to soak in hot water to best relax tired muscles. We also enjoyed soaking our feet and ankles in much colder water, which was a great remedy for the bit of heat rash we experienced after a morning in sweaty boots.

Before bed we had a small dinner, including a couple of pinchos and a glass of red wine...we had to support La Rioja, wine country, after all.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day 6: Genevilla to Laguardia (July 7)

After our lively evening in Santa Cruz and Genevilla, we couldn't quite pull ourselves out of bed as early as we intended, so we enjoyed the peach juice, bread, and lemon pound cake Maribel and Guy had waiting for our breakfast and set out for our day's walk shortly after 10 am. It was a solid day walking that began along a gravel road and led us through the tiny town of Cabredo. Immediately from this town we followed a steep trail uphill through various stones and weeds until we reached a highway. From there we walked along the highway for about 5 km, winding back and forth to the top of a mountain (fortunately the incline was manageable and didn't leave us out of breath). At the top of the mountain, we passed through the tiny town of Lapoblacion and began to make the descent into what we could see was a vast expanse of fields - there didn't seem to be any more mountains in front of us today :).

Our downhill walk led us through yet another tiny town, this one called Meano, and there our path took us off the road and into a wooded area. All seemed to be going well as we made our way steadily downhill, navigating a rocky path, until Greg noticed we were no longer on track with the GPS route we were following. We attempted to cut through the woods and get back on track, but we had no success, so instead we continued following the path we were on to the bottom of the hill. At the foot of the mountain we considered following GPS to rejoin the original path, but chose instead to follow the highway, which was more direct and allowed us to avoid some of the flies that plagued us in the woods and fields. Shortly, on the highway, we met our original route again and continued along it past the town of Cripan.

We had no trouble following the way from here, as much of it ran along the highway. Eventually, we started passing vineyards so we knew we were in or nearing La Rioja, Spain's famed wine region. In this area, our directions led us off the highway and onto gravel roads that wound us past vineyard after vineyard. In this way we walked around Elvillar, and eventually our destination of Laguardia came into sight.

In an effort to follow the last bit of our directions to enter Laguardia, we came upon some very intense barking dogs who did not seem to be restrained by fence or leash, so we backtracked just a bit and took the next road that led into town instead. Laguardia sits up on a hill and is an old walled city, so we climbed the hill without much trouble, entered the walled area, and found our hostel just a little way off a main square and very close to one of the churches, San Juan. Today we traveled 27.5 km in 5.5 hours!

Checked in, we addressed the shower and laundry necessities but found there was no stopper for the sink drain (this had happened once before and trying to plug the sink with an upside down glass didn't have particularly worthwhile results). This time we opted for just rinsing a couple of things with the hope of doing a better wash tomorrow night. Then we took a walk around town, excited to explore this town that attracts many tourists in pursuit of vineyard tours and delicious wine; we also hoped to find mass times for Sunday. Unfortunately, both the churches of San Juan and Santa Maria appeared to be completely locked up. Since restaurants were in the in between time after lunch and before late dinner, we picked up some bread, had a snack and rest back in our room, and went out for a late pizza around 8:30 pm. During dinner, the doors of Santa Maria were open, so Greg was able to find out that mass would be held at 10 am at San Juan and at noon at Santa Maria on Sunday. This would require us to begin our walk later than we hoped, so we planned to leave Laguardia quite early and hopefully make it to our destination in time to attend mass there. With a delicious barbeque sausage pizza in our stomachs, we fell asleep quickly!

Day 5: Santa Cruz de Campezo to Genevilla (July 6)

Because of the way we combined stages yesterday (a result of lodging and food challenges), we had a nice, short 6 km day today. We were able to get some extra rest this morning, enjoy breakfast at our hostel, and then make our way down the mountain and into the town of Santa Cruz de Campezo to pick up a couple of things at the supermarket and pharmacy. From there, we left town and found ourselves on a dirt road that wound us back through the woods and, in a short time, to Genevilla. The way had some rolling hills, but was not difficult, and certainly our worst problem was swatting away the flies that seem to find us particularly attractive during our hikes.

At our hostel, we were delighted with what we found...a lovely little bedroom with a balcony and flowers, very comfortable amenities, a terrace, and a living room/library for guests to enjoy. We settled right in, did the typical laundry and shower routine (we were particularly excited about the soap we picked up at the store since our access to this luxury had been pretty limited for the past couple of days), and wandered around the little town of Genevilla for a bit.

After a bit of rest, it was time for dinner on the terrace. Our hostel hosts, a very nice couple (Maribel from Spain and Guy from Belgium), prepared a delicious meal for us including salad with eel on top (teeny tiny eels that were warm and mounded on top of the salad - apparently these eels are a specialty in this region), chicken in a butter cream sauce, and little berries and peaches with whipped cream for dessert. Guy also insisted we enjoy some wine, so we did, and before long he too was enjoying a glass with us. Guy explained to us that the big thing to do in this area on Friday night is to go to Santa Cruz (where we had hiked from that morning) and enjoy Pincho Pote where you pay 1 euro for a beer or wine and a pincho (1.5 euro for the really good wine). So after dinner, we hopped in the car with Guy and went back to Santa Cruz where we enjoyed Pincho Pote at four different bars. From there we went back to Genevilla and Guy asked a group of his friends in the street "who has the keys to the bar?" turns out that one of those friends is the owner of the one bar in Genevilla. After one more half glass of wine there, we called it a night and headed to bed. Before we could doze off, Maribel and Guy were able to stamp our credential, and Guy insisted we sign his book of "very special guests" - he showed us the photo of the Irish Jesuit who did this camino earlier this year and promised that our picture would go in there too. While the evening was lots of fun and definitely an experience worth having, that was a lot of wine in a short amount of time!

Should you ever find yourself in Genevilla, Spain, you must stay at this hostel (Casa Usetegieta) it is incredibly comfortable, the food is delicious, and Maribel and Guy are beyond gracious!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 4: Araia to Santa Cruz de Campezo, by way of Alda (July 5)

Today was really, really long. We woke up early to a breakfast that Chuspi, our hostel host, had prepared for us. A while back she spent a year or so in Dallas, so she was excited to have visitors from the States.

Setting out for our walk, things didn't look bad, but we knew we had a sizable hill to climb early on and that we would travel about 35 km in total today. Fortunately, the weather was overcast and the hill wasn't as difficult as those in the previous two days; however, when we arrived at the top, our directions became more scattered, and we spent a significant amount of time wandering through fields of livestock...imagine grass expanses with cows and horses hanging out and making lots of noise with their bells and grassy knolls covered with grazing sheep.

Once we navigated the mountaintop (and dodged our share of animal droppings), we had a manageable downhill across roads and paths, a little rain (so we got to use our rain gear!), and made it to a valley with three tiny towns.

The first town we entered was Ullibarri...while it was pretty cool that it had a truck that drove around selling fish and other small groceries (imagine an ice cream truck with announcements instead of music), there was no eatery for us, so we moved on. The second town was Alda, which is where this stage of hiking is scheduled to end, but we learned in planning our trip that Alda has a hostel but, again, no eatery, so we moved on to the third town, San Vicente. There we found a nice little restaurant where we had the menu of the day and, as we were leaving, a nice little lady asked if we were doing the Camino Ignaciano, and the bar owner had a stamp for our credential!

Leaving San Vicente, we were encouraged that we only had 10 km more to go. So we threw on some more sunscreen and things went well until about 4 km outside of town....the exhaustion and aches were starting to set in, and we watched the town that was our destination grow closer little by little. In town, we learned that the place we were staying was up a hill/mountainside, so we climbed and climbed and finally arrived. Turns out, our 35 km day was actually 39 km, and we did it in about 8.5 hours of walking (plus extra time for lunch, little rests, and picture taking)!

While it was certainly a long and exhausting day, we're encourage that we only have a very short 6 km day tomorrow, and we try to remember that these aches and exhaustion are part of what camino is all about.

Day 3: Arantzazu to Araia (July 4)

After a difficult mountain climb yesterday, we gave ourselves some extra time to sleep in this morning. Once we packed up, we had a quick croissant at the hotel cafeteria for breakfast and started our walk off with another mountain! This one wasn't as painstaking as the one the day before, and it was nice to complete the big climb at the start of the day instead of closer to the end. At the top we found a little church and a home/bar/restaurant where we paused to readjust our packs before continuing on.

From this place, called Urbia, we followed a gravel road past a few more homes, through a group of horses grazing by the roadside, and eventually to the far edge of the mountain where we could see down into a valley with expansive fields. From the road, we moved onto a dirt and stone path that led us downward through a very wooded and then we had to cross little patches of mud and water by hopping from stone to stone, which was kind of fun! At some point in this wooded area, our way met up with the Camino Santiago, and we followed the same route for a while, though we didn't come across any other pilgrims. Our wooded path eventually led us back to the road where we travelled down a steep hill for a significant time. On and on along the road we travelled until we turned and parted ways with the Camino Santiago. From there we passed some swimming pools, which looked incredibly refreshing, and shortly our destination of Araia came into view. Today's walk was about 18 km.

Once in Araia, we had a little challenge finding our hostel...a little old man near the entrance to town was confused but sent us walking to the left; we consulted our GPS and continued that way; then we came across a younger man who may or may not have been smoking an illegal (in the states anyway) substance, and he directed us in the same way toward the stop sign; finally, a third man seemed to have no idea what we were asking about until Greg called it an agro-tourism hotel (yes, like Dwight's farm in The Office), then the man confirmed that a cousin of his is the owner. Finally we found the right place and met the owner who showed us to the guest quarters, which included three bedrooms and a kitchen for our use. Since we had a kitchen to use, we were excited to go to the supermarket and cook dinner, but we would have to wait, as the store is only open from 5-7:30 pm (they do have some morning hours).

With showers and laundry done, we sat outside for a while, picked up some food at the store for dinner and the next day, and enjoyed a delicious meal of pasta, chicken, and bread...we figured we should enjoy our carbs and the energy they might offer on the next hike!

Day 2: Zumarraga to Arantzazu (July 3)

We woke up this morning feeling well rested after our evening with Fermin, but we knew there was a pretty significant mountain in our walk today, so we stopped for some breakfast at a nearby cafe. With full bellies and a cafe con leche for Ruth, we started out.

The first portion of the walk went very smoothly...a few kilometers after we started, we reached a town called Legazpi where we had a quick bathroom break and a little rest. From there, we navigated a few streets and then found ourselves on more of a park path...this path led us through two super tiny villages and ultimately to a well where we could break and refill our water. Up a small hill from the well, we reached a beautiful reservoir where there were incredible mountain views from the bridge that led us over the water (see photo posted earlier "lovely little view of our mountain").

Immediately after the bridge, we started the ascent, which wound us along a rocky path, through the forest, past a few cottages/barns, out above the trees, along more significantly rocky paths, and finally, finally to the top of the mountain. This climb was incredibly steep and long (5 km took us a bit longer than 2 hours of actual walking), but we took some rests and photo breaks in addition to all the climbing. Not having had to do any uphill work the day before, I think perhaps we didn't know quite what to expect from this challenging day. Fortunately, our directions were very clear, and once we reached the mountaintop, everything else was downhill.

The descent, though a welcome relief from all the previous uphill, was also very steep and a bit treacherous in some areas that were completely rock covered. We were particularly glad to avoid rain today, as the rocks would have been almost unmanageable if they were slippery. After making our way some distance down the mountain, we finally reached the tiny village of Arantzazu (for a total distance of 20 km today). By tiny village, I mean there was one restaurant and bar, the Sanctuary of Arantzazu (which is an incredible basilica), and the hotel where we stayed (it's connected to the basilica). Because the basilica is perched on the side of the mountain, it was a little unclear if there was anything else further along the road, but regardless, it was definitely a small place.

Upon checking into the hotel, we followed what we expect to be a daily routine of arriving, washing clothes, showering, and finding food. At Arantzazu, this all went according to plan with the exception of finding food. It seems we had missed the lengthy Spanish lunch period but were too early for the late evening Spanish dinnertime, so we were told at the bar and hotel cafeteria that it was a "bad hour" for food. Instead, we checked out the basilica, got our pilgrimage credential stamped, and decided to at least have a soda while we waited for dinnertime. Luckily, the lady at the hotel cafeteria felt some sympathy for us and whipped up a couple of pinchos to go with our diet cokes and ice cream....definitely the most nutritious of snacks :). A couple of hours later we had a really delicious, and complete, dinner, including salad, entree (duck for Greg and calamari for Ruth), dessert, and wine. Finally full, we settled in for a good night's sleep.

Day 1: Loyola to Zumarraga (July 2)

Rested up from a nice weekend, we set out! Before departing Loyola, we stopped in the Basilica where it was cool and lit only by natural light so early in the morning. Together, we prayed a decade of the rosary and lit a candle for Greg's grandmother, who would have been 81 today, our first day of the camino. With a few last pictures of the exterior, we began walking.

We made quick time to the first town, Azkoitia, and after navigating town, quickly found our path again. This path basically led us all the way to Zumarraga on relatively flat ground. The cool, and slightly spooky, part of this path was that it went through many tunnels, some of them quite long. We learned later that these tunnels were originally built for trains to pass easily in the mountains. As dark as they were, we were really thankful for this engineering breakthrough that wouldn't have existed as a luxury for Ignatius.

In Zumarraga, we had a little challenge finding our hostel, but we met a nice little man named Miguel in the process, and he showed us the way. Unfortunately, it seemed to be closed, so we found a different one listed on Greg's master spreadsheet and secured a room. We learned that our room wouldn't be ready until 5 or 6, so we had about 3 hours to pass. So we ate! Every place we went to seemed to be closing as we were eating our pinchos (tiny sandwiches), which seemed a little strange, but it just prompted us to find another place. Before going to check in at our hostel, we met Fermin, who was the first person to do this entire pilgrimage back in March and has been a great resource in planning our camino (he's also done the Camino Santiago 13 times!). He told us that it was a big festival day in Zumarraga that day (which explains the closing restaurants), so we should go up to the La Antigua church to check it out and then meet back up with him.

Checked into our hotel and showered, we found the free buses that were taking people up to the festival, so we hopped on, checked things out at La Antigua, lit one more candle for Greg's grandmother, watched some awesome coordinated dancing, and rode the bus back down to town. As we were about to board our return bus, Greg really wanted one of the embroidered handkerchiefs that lots of people were wearing, so he asked someone who was wearing one where to buy it....turns out, they don't make them anymore, so this really nice man insisted on giving Greg his (see photo).

We met up with Fermin and a bunch of his family back in town, had drinks at a couple of bars, learned lots of history about the area and camino from him, ate a couple more pinchos for dinner, and headed back to the hotel for bed.

This first day was 18 km....I'll post all distances in kilometers throughout the blog....if you need the conversion to miles, it's 1 km : 0.62 mi.

The link to our picasa web album will be updated when we have access to a desktop, so we'll let you know when new pictures are up!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Direct links to dotMagis posts

Here are the direct links for what Greg has posted so far on the dotMagis blog of the site.

Post #1: intro video

Post #2:

Post #3:

More thorough post and pictures from our first few stages to come when we have better Internet!

Lovely little view of our mountain

About halfway through our mileage today, we had this gorgeous view from a bridge over a reservoir. Some time later, we confirmed that we were, in fact, hiking that mountain beyond all the trees, at the back of the picture. That was a climb of about 3000 feet in elevation!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

dotMagis Blog

In addition to this blog that we're keeping as regularly as possible throughout our journey, Greg is making occasional contributions to dotMagis, the blog of

His latest post can be found at

Bilbao to Loyola, by way of Eibar

Our travel to Spain proved to be exhausting, so when we finally made it to our hotel in Bilbao around 2 pm on Friday afternoon, we were eager for a nap.  Once we had a little rest, we spent a couple of hours exploring parts of Bilbao - we had heard some good things about the city, so we walked down by the river and over to see the exterior of the Museo Guggenheim de Bilbao, which was pretty cool.  We were also hoping to find a bridge where you can see through the floor to the river, but we never made it that far, or perhaps we were looking in the wrong place.  Fortunately, we did find a lovely little ice cream stand in our wanderings, which was absolutely delicious and probably a favorite memory of our few hours in Bilbao.  Exhausted again, we stopped at a supermarket for a few dinner supplies, ate our bread, jam, and lunch meats back at the hotel, and settled in for a long night´s sleep.

Around noon on Saturday, we checked out of our Bilbao hotel and set out for the bus terminal, which was easy enough to find.  The correct bus, on the other hand, was not so easy to find.  After standing in line at the bus company we thought we were supposed to use, we learned that the bus we wanted to take wasn´t available (either it wasn´t running that day, or it doesn´t really exist), so we were directed to the terminal´s general information counter.  There, we encountered some confused individuals, who thought we might be looking for the university...when Greg clarified, we were directed to take a bus to Eibar, which was in the right direction toward our destination of Loyola.  Greg asked the bus driver to Eibar if there would be a bus from there to Loyola, and he very reassuring said "we´ll see!"  While Eibar was a very lovely town - we were lucky enough to walk past a wedding party, witness some of the eating and drinking excitement that happens during siesta, and ride an outdoor excalator - this is not where we wanted to end up.  At the Eibar bus terminal, it looked like there would be a bus to Loyola in a few hours at 5 pm; after asking around, we were told to wait for the bus at a different stop, but other people were unsure if and when the bus would come by.

Enter a heavyset man in a pink polo shirt driving a Mercedes taxicab.

He was our ticket from Eibar to Loyola.  This gentleman graciously agreed to drive us the 10 miles or so to Loyola.  Now you´re probably thinking, aren´t you planning to walk that many miles and more on any given day of the camino?  Yes, we are, but we weren´t quite ready to take on that mileage starting in the middle of the afternoon and still suffering from a bit of jetlag; so, we were delighted to accept a fancy taxicab ride, since the alternative was waiting for a bus that may or may not have arrived that afternoon.

Our time in Loyola has been relaxing.  From exploring the home where Ignatius was born and grew up, to attending mass in the Chapel of the Conversion (the room where Ignatius underwent surgery, passed time during his recovery, and made the choice to follow in the footsteps of the saints before him), to walking the first couple of miles of the camino to get our bearings and find a delicious little lunch of pinchos and white wine.

Tomorrow we have our first day of hiking - the weather forecast looks manageable, so we´re excited to get started!

Basilica at Loyola

During our time in Loyola, we're staying right next door to this beautiful church...more detail on Loyola to come in a subsequent post.