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.

Sunrise after leaving Los Arcos

Trying to keep up with the blog while walking the Camino de Santiago has been challenging. The typical day is to put in the miles, get to our Albergue (hostel), hand wash our laundry, write in our journals over beers, eat dinner, and go to bed. We’ve also been meeting amazing people along the way, so there’s socializing as well.

Squeezing in time to blog has been a fail on my part. But since starting the adventure, I’ve received many nice comments, texts, and emails from friends, family, and even strangers who are enjoying reading my posts. So I am committed to keep ’em coming … even if they are infrequent.

In effort to catch up, here’s my recap of 4 days on the Camino: 2 walking and 2 rest ones in Logroño for their annual Harvest Fiesta.

Estella to Los Arcos

When researching the Camino, J’Nell and I read about so many interesting things we needed to seek out during our 500 mile walk. One that particularly piqued our interest was the Irache Wine Fountain in Ayegui. While it might sound like a myth or fairytale, I can indeed report there is a fountain open to the public in Spain that dispenses wine free of charge.

We heard that sometimes it isn’t running, and when we arrived around 9:30 am with nobody else there I was a bit worried. J’Nell was the first to test it (we used these little juice containers we bought in Estella), and, hallelujah, there was vino flowing. It was tasty rosé and a good morning pick-me-up; we capped-up what we didn’t finish and put it in the side of our packs for later.

After continuing our hike we eventually reached a higher vantage point and we could see the sheer cliffs off in the distance we viewed yesterday, and also a concial hill we were heading towards. The mountain is called Monjardin, and there are ruins of a castle on top (St. Esteban). Getting closer as we ascended, the moon was rising just to its right and it was magical.

After stopping for a rest and and an ice cream at Villamayor de Monjardín, we would then descend into the valley past vineyards, olive trees, and asparagus & squash plants. When you turned around, you could see the mountains and castle ruins receding, but they were still imposing. It had to be in the mid 80s with no shade and we were getting weary, but luckily got a 2nd wind when in the middle of nowhere we passed the woman playing the accordian under the tree. A special moment.

There would be another wonderful surprise later that day as we continued in the heat through the dirt trail with no shade or town in sight. We figured we were still about 1.5 hours to Los Arcos when we spotted the mobile cafe with covered seating. I got a beer and J’Nell a local orange soda, and our rest gave us enough energy to trek to our destination. We showered and hand washed our clothes after checking into the first place we found that had availability, and then toured the beautiful Los Arcos church and had some drinks and dinner in the town square.

Wine Fountain is flowing!

Moon rising next to the castle ruins at Monjardin

Eduardo’s Cafe Movil, an Oasis for the thirsty pilgrim

Cathedral in Los Arcos

Los Arcos to Logroño

This day would be the longest distance we’d walked (around 18 miles) and my feet were throbbing by the end of it. Thankfully there was plenty of cloud cover and breezes to mitigate the heat, and we got (what for us was) an early start at 7:45 am. If we left later and it was hotter, I’m not sure how we could have made it that far to
Logroño.

Though very difficult, we were treated to some outstanding sights during the hike that day. The first was in Torres del Rio where we got to see the unique 12th Century octagonal Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro, which likely was built by the Knights Templar as a connection to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Its a very small church, but one of the most special I’ve stepped inside.

The next to note was, after a good climb, the sweeping and gorgeous views of the Navarra Region (where we’d been but would soon be leaving for Rioja). And my third favorite part of the day would be the lovely 800-year-old hilltop town of Viana. The cathedral was closed for renovation, but the facade was outstanding, the square charming, and as we were very hungry, we’d end up getting a 3 course lunch with wine. Probably not our best decision with a couple more hours to walk, but it was very tasty.

After checking out the cool ruins of San Pedro (13th century, destroyed in the 19th), we left Viana and set out in the late afternoon for Logroño. Other than 2 bikers we chatted with, we didn’t seen any other pilgrims the whole way there. We figured lots stayed in Viana, and the ones who went to Logroño left much earlier in the day.

We would spend 3 nights in Logroño and fully enjoy the wine harvest fiesta we were lucky to be there for. While so much fun, it was strange to be around thousands of people partying after the solitude of the Camino. On Friday evening when we arrived, with all the music and food and crowds and drinking, it was like stepping into the pages of The Sun Also Rises (swapping Logroño for Pamplona).

During our time there we would be absorbed by the fiesta and have an amazing time. But in addition to the wine tasting and partying, we did visit the terrific churches in town and enjoy the historic areas and cultural aspects. We also chatted with lots of truly wonderful locals who were proud to share their festival with us visitors.

Knights Templar (probably) Iglesia de Santo Sepulcro

Inside of Santo Spulcro, based on the octagonal church in Jerusalem

I dig a good sweeping view

Heading into Viana

Ruins of San Pedro in Viana

Fiesta Time in Logroño

Wine tasting in the main square

Iglesia de Santiago in Logroño

It seemed everywhere you turned there was a parade … this was on our last night when we were at the laundromat

Fiesta Fireworks

Leaving Puente la Reina before the rain

J’Nell and I left Puente la Reina and crossed its eponymous bridge around 7:30 am with the sun beginning to rise. I’d checked the weather the night before mainly to see how hot it would be, and smiled at the 83 planted on the day with a big sun. Another fine walk ahead on the Camino.

A quarter of a mile into our trip that morning it began to rain.

Two days prior we got a light sprinkle for about half an hour, but we had the cover of the forest to keep us dry. We’d also put plastic ponchos over our packs as extra precaution and all was good. Since the day’s forecast seemed favorable and the rain (at that point) was light, we figured we’d be fine doing the same.

With every step the rain came down harder, the wind blew colder, and the lightning & thunder scared the shit out of us. The flashes and booms went on for a good couple hours, with only a few seconds in between them. You can’t help but worry, even if the odds are in your favor.

Maybe it was a good thing, as the fear of being charred took my mind off the big climb over rocky, muddy roads. We arrived at the next town (Mañeru) and luckily found a covered area by the fountain. There was a group of 20-somethings chatting there, and we all shared the dry spot for a spell and contemplated whether to wait or charge through the rain.

The decision was to keep on moving, but we smartly put the ponchos over ourselves as well as our packs. And that’s when it began to pour. It was wet and cold, and a tough hike to the beautiful hilltop town of Cirauqui.

We sheltered under the church’s covered pathway for ten minutes before moving onward toward our day’s destination of Estella (where we’d made a reservation at an Albergue). Thankfully the plastic ponchos kept us dry up to our thighs, but our feet were soaked through. It’s great to have waterproof shoes, but they don’t help much when the water comes in from the top in buckets.

Leaving town we got to step over original stones from the 2,000 year-old Roman Road that goes through the area. Its really cool in principle, and two millennia ago it was an apex of technology for Caesar and his soldiers. But for pilgrims in 2019 in the rain and mud, the busted up stones were a struggle to traverse.

We passed through Lorca next (another nice hilltop town and it made me think of the Spainsh poet), and it finally stopped raining. We still had about 4.5 miles to Estella, and the sun (it was now getting hot) would thankfully dry us along the way. There would be one more stop, the gorgeous 13th Century Church in Villatuerta (our policy has been if the doors are open we go inside), and we then we forged on (getting drier with each step) to Estella.

70 miles down, 430 to go.

Keeping dry with our ponchos

Those arches provided great cover from the rain.

Roman roads were great 2000 years ago… in 2019 ,not so much.

Beautiful frescoes in the church

The bridge to Estella.

Having a beer in the town square of Estella

The iconic Pilgrim Sculpture at Alto del Perdon

Traveling together as a couple is a wonderful thing to do, but being on your own has its pleasures as well. When J’Nell and I were planning our Camino Adventure, we talked about possibly walking some days solo. With 500 miles to traverse over 40 plus days, we were sure it would happen at some point.

Leaving Pamplona we would get our first chance.

The forecast called for 87 and J’Nell, logically, wanted to get an early start. The night before, however, Hemingway’s ghost urged me to drink more vino tinto and I was very sleepy in the morning. She was packed and out the door before 8 am, and I didn’t check out of the hotel until about 9:45.

Exiting Pamplona I did not not see one Pilgrim (who are generally early risers) for several miles. Leaving the city you pass the University and follow a nice biker/walker/jogger trail out to hill that takes you into the country. By 11 am the day had gotten hot, and I quickened my pace knowing I had a lot of distance to cover to Puente la Reina, as well as getting over one large mountain.

As much as I’ve enjoyed meeting people along the way, its marvelous to have long stretches where you don’t see anyone. Late starts, while tougher because of the heat, will give you that. I concentrated on the gravel path taking me upward, the sun baked fields, and the mountain in the distance. Until I reached the town of Zariquigui I didn’t see more than 5 or 6 pilgrims all day.

I had only eaten a Cliff Bar and an orange up to that point, and there was a little cafe along the way where several people were enjoying lunch. But after filling up my water at the town fountain, I kept on moving. I was determined to reach Alto del Perdon, the Mount of Forgiveness. I had not only read about the beautiful view from the top, but also about the iconic sculpture there done in 1996 by Vincent Galbete.

I didn’t expect to be alone, but after seeing so few people all day it was surprising to encounter so many. I wasn’t aware at the time, but busses take tourists to the spot (it makes sense, its amazing). There were also a helluva lot of flies/gnats in swarms for whatever reason (nothing more than a nuisance), and when I finally got a chance to take in the sculpture with no people in front, I was hilariously attacked by them (see video below).

Crowds and bugs aside, it was a moving experience being at Alto del Perdon. If you’re interested in learning more about the sculpture, here’s a link to an article that goes into its history: https://caminotimestwo.com/2018/01/05/the-surprising-story-behind-the-sculpture-on-alto-del-perdon/amp/

Going down from the mountain pass was steep and rocky, and I could feel a blister forming on my left foot. There were a few groups ahead of me, and I chatted with a very nice retiree from Canada who was doing the Camino with her teenaged granddaughter. But I kept a fast pace and soon found myself alone again for a very long time.

One of my favorite moments of the day was in a town (or just outside it) called Muruzabal on a dirt path with fields sweeping out for miles to my right and left. A young man riding a white horse with a little doggie trailing behind passed me and we exchanged holas. It kept me going in the late afternoon heat.

I figured J’Nell was already in the Albergue in Puenta la Reina that we reserved, but we ended up meeting a couple of towns before that at a place called Obanos. She had just come out of the very lovely church there (San Juan Bautista), and it was so nice seeing her in the plaza. After such a long and challenging day, it felt so wonderful to be together at the end.

Late start out of Pamplona

Spent the first part of the day mostly alone

Water fill up at one of the many fuentes generously provided along the way

Lots of people at the sculpture

Wow

My cowboy friend and his doggie

Meeting up with J’Nell at Obanos!

Ending the day at Puente la Reina