Lost in the Fog

With my new novel Lost in the Fog about to be published in early 2020, I'm embarking on a three month trip to Europe. A big part of it will be hiking the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile sojourn through Northern Spain. This blog will try to capture moments of the journey. David Lynch once said "getting lost is beautiful", and I hope my voyage will embody that definition.

Heading out of Burgette

We left Burguete around 8 am, getting back on the Camino a little later than we hoped. I’ve never been a morning person, but of course the earlier you start walking, the less time you have in the heat. Since arriving in Europe on September 6th, the weather has been cool and pleasant, but it was going to be over 80 degrees on this day.

And we had 15 miles to walk to Larrasoaña.

About 50 yards from our hostel we took a right off the main road and started down a dirt path. All around us was mist and fog. But thankfully you could still see the mountains in the distance through the diaphanous haze. I stopped to take a picture of cows grazing in the meadow, and it was there I met Martin.

He was recent retiree from Holland, and we chatted about traveling and our jobs and various cities. It was a brief 30 minutes of walking together, but getting to know people along the Way from all over the world is what makes the experience even more special. On this day we would also meet Brian from Dublin (outstanding Irish wit), Hannah from New Zealand (such a genuinely nice person), and then a lovely couple from Australia that (I unfortunately cannot remember their names) who we would end up bonding with again miles later in the journey.

From Burguete there were several challenging hills on our hike. Ones that sans backpack might not be so hard, but lugging an extra 20 lbs on you in the mountains is no joke. Then, like Day 1, there was another very steep and rocky downhill stretch that would test us even more.
That was into a town called Zubiri, where a lot of people on the Camino call it a day and sleep. When we arrived we got a beer (maybe it was dos cervezas) to rest and refuel, as there were still another 5k to our destination.

On our way out of town over the medieval bridge, we heard from several people no beds were to be had in Zubiri or Larrasoaña. For those not familiar with the area, in Basque Country in Northern Spain it isn’t like you can just pop into a Econolodge, Motel 6, or even something like a Westin whenever you need one. Mostly these are tiny, charming towns that likely only have pilgrim’s hostels and possibly one other option. And then after Larrasoaña, there likely would be no place to stay except for Pamplona, a 20 or so minute taxi ride away.

But what could we do at that point except press onward? We still had another 1.5 hours to walk with almost no shade in the hottest weather we’d yet to encounter. At a water fountain dating back to 1911, with a bunch of wild cats milling about, we met the nice Australian couple (likely in their 60s and had walked the Camino before) and made a pact if there were indeed no rooms in Larrasoaña, we would split a cab to Pamplona so we could find rooms. We also agreed we would meet up in the morning and take a taxi back to the same spot where we left off (it was unspoken that we all needed to walk the entire Camino).

J’Nell and I both thought it sounded awful, but if that was our reality, we were prepared to grit through it. Thankfully when we got to Larrasoaña there was a cancellation at Albergue San Nicolas, and there were beds for all of us! They say the Camino takes care of you when you need it, and this was the first moment for us. The people who run the San Nicolas Albergue in Larrasoaña are wonderful, and their hostel is outstanding. We had a tasty dinner there, drank some wine, and were asleep.

Diaphanous haze of the morning

Moo

Getting ready to head down into Zubiri

Zubiri has a fine puente (bridge). Its also a nice place to stop for a beer before the final trek into Larrasoaña

We shared the Camino with these horses for a while

Lots of going up and down on the Camino

A sort of cat cafe in Esquiroz

Water fountain in Esquiroz where we met the nice Australian couple

So lucky we got beds here

From Room #11 at Hostal Burguete

If you ever decide to walk the Camino de Santiago, there are tons of books, blogs, articles and plenty of very knowledgeable people who can give you essential information. I read and learned a lot before starting the journey. However, during my research, I didn’t come across anyone who suggested taking a rest on Day 2.

J’Nell and I did just that, and it was an excellent decision.

After waking up quite drowsy in Roncesvalles after that crazy long hike over the Pyrenees, with weary bodies and minds, we walked 3.1 km down the road to Burguete and took off our backpacks for a respite from the Camino. There were three reasons for doing this.

First, we booked rooms in Pamplona and Logrono (later stops on the Camino) at great rates a few months ago estimating when we would be arriving in those towns on foot. In doing this, we thought we would be splitting up Day One (not going the whole way to Roncesvalles) by staying in the albergue (Pilgrim’s Hostel) in Orrison in the Pyrenees. Unfortunately they were all booked up, so we wound up being one day early.

J’Nell and I could have modified our hotel reservations in Pamplona and Logrono, but we both figured after such a long day hiking in the mountains (something we’re not used to), our bodies could use the rest. That turned out to be very true. What I didn’t count on, was my mind needed the extra time as well to process what had just happened the day before.

Then there was the 3rd, and biggest reason, for me. In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, my favorite book, the main character Jake and his buddy Bill go fishing in Burguete and stay at a quaint inn there. Hem did the same in real life, and the place where he lodged is still in operation and even has the same piano where the legendary author carved his signature back in 1923.

The Camino de Santiago goes right through Burguete, and I couldn’t pass up staying at the same place Hemingway did when he was writing my favorite novel.

Burguete is a tiny, old, picturesque town of whitewashed houses and red roofs and lots of shutters. Most of the place is built inches from the road that cuts through it, though there is a pleasant stream behind the main road, hiking paths, and park benches that J’Nell and I enjoyed while waiting to check into our room at Hostal Burguete.

A perfect spot to rest, and in the early morning and afternoon, it seemed we had the whole town to ourselves. We bought a bottle of local wine at the market (so delicious and inexpensive) and some snacks, and had a picnic by the stream. In The Sun Also Rises, Jake and Bill put their wine in the river to chill it while they fish, and J’Nell and I did the same.

We wrote in our journals, both of us trying to get some perspective on the previous day’s grueling yet amazing hike. We sipped the full bodied red wine, ate our snacks (olives, mixed nuts, and freshly picked blackberries) and the only sounds were birds, an occasional car, and the water flowing over the pebbly stream.

When I thought of doing the Camino de Santiago, such a moment is what I envisioned.

After checking in later in the day and taking a siesta, we went to what appeared to be the only bar open in town. There we drank a few beers before a wonderful dinner at Hostal Burguete. We heard one other older couple speaking English (they were from the UK), but otherwise it was all locals enjoying the evening in thier lovely town. The beers were cold and the mountains in the distance with the glow of the sunset on them were stunning.

Cool mural as you head into Burguete from Roncesvalles

Charming house in Burguete

Behind the town

Where we bought our wine and snacks

Chilling our wine Hemingway Style

Journaling by the pebbly stream

Love this town

Hemingway was here… 1923

Papa

I can’t describe how cool it was to be there at Hostal Burguete.

Day One of the Camino de Santiago, my 500 mile pilgrimage on foot from France to the end of Spain. Yesterday it was a hike of nearly 16 miles with an incline of 4,000 feet from St. Jean Pied de Port to a descent of 1,500 into Roncesvalles. The beer I had at the end was magical.

It was arduous, but both J’Nell and I did well and perservered. I was certainly glad I had been using the hill feature on the treadmill and elliptical at the gym the last few months. The excitement of the journey also helped carry me over and down the Pyrenees Mountains, as well as my newly purchased hiking poles.

Surprising, going up was a lot easier than going down. I had read that would be the case in the guidebooks, but for me, I had always welcomed a decline over an incline. Not Day One on the Camino. Maybe if you started at that descent into Roncesvalles it wouldn’t have the same effect, but after climbing so high and being on the trail for hours and hours, it was extremely taxing.

And worth every step.

Reflecting on the day as a whole, the word ‘Wow!’ keeps coming to mind. The sheer beauty of starting in the charming Medieval village of St. Jean and then crossing France into Spain in the Pyrenees was wonderous. The sweeping vistas of the mountains, walking for miles next to horses, cows and sheep on old paths, and having long stretches of time without hearing anything but the wind or a dinging bell attached to one of those animals … I’ll never forget it.

The accomplishment of the steps, floors, and miles of the day (all huge numbers according to Fitbit) is nice, but it was so much more than that. First, you have the fact you’re taking part and honoring the Camino de Santiago, the same pilgrimage people have been walking for centuries. Then there was the whole strangeness of it all, having never climbed a mountain of that size nor having stepped foot in this place in the world. But essentially it was being in the Now the whole day, taking in and enjoying every minute of the trek even when it was physically challenging … especially when it was physically challenging.

I also want to mention the great people I’ve encountered, the locals and my fellow travelers on the Camino. My French and Spanish is weak at best, but everyone has been so accommodating as well as appreciative of my linguistic efforts. I’ve also greatly enjoyed the opportunity to converse and hear the stories of the people on the Way.

I’m excited to continue the journey!

Here are some photos of my time from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles and hope you enjoy.

Pilgrim’s Bridge at St. Jean Pied de Port

Sunset over St. Jean

J’Nell starting off the Camino at the Spanish Gate (which is very much in France)

Sunrise on the Way

Loved seeing all the wild animals

Leaving Orrisen (a very steep path to get there) and still have a long way over the mountains.

Climbing higher and higher….

Horses high in the Pyrenees

Highest point we ascended on Day One in the Pyrenees

10 hours later….Made it to Roncesvalles in time for dinner