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.

At the Hemingway statue in Pamplona

I’m way behind in my posts (J’nell and I are currently enjoying a rest day in Logrono and the craziness that is the Wine Harvest Fiesta), but I’m going to continue on chronologically. Here we go with days 4 & 5 on the Camino …

The hike into Pamplona from Larrasoaña was a fairly easy 16K (about 10 miles) with temperatures in the upper 70s and mostly flat terrain. We encountered our first rain of the trip, but luckily we were in a thick forested path that hugged the river. However we did fasten disposable ponchos on our backpacks for precaution, as there were parts of the trail that had no cover. Overall we kept dry.

We had a reservation in Pamplona (at a nice hotel) so there was no hurry in our pace, but we ended up making it there faster than expected. Around 12:30 pm we reached the beautiful 12th Century Romanesque stone bridge called Puente de Magdalena, after having to make our first choice of routes on the Camino. About an hour or so outside of Pamplona, it was either walk over a historic stone bridge into Arre by a beautiful church (but then into a more trafficked suburb of Pamplona), or take the quieter route away from the city along the river (which was slightly longer).

We debated, and both concluded we should head into the town over the river. The other path could have been prettier, but the bridge was wonderful, we got a stamp for our Pilgrim’s Passport at the church, and most importantly, we met a sweet nun who hugged and kissed us. She was so excited and happy we were walking the Camino, and the encounter with her was very special.

Pamplona was everything I hoped it would be.

As mentioned previously, The Sun Also Rises is my favorite book, and getting to walk the streets and visit the cafes that Hemingway and his characters did was beyond cool. I have a copy of the novel on my Kindle, and when J’Nell and I were sitting in the legendary Iruna Cafe, I opened it and read a few chapters while sipping a beer. In the parlance of our times, I completely geeked out.

In the book it was the last day of the fiesta, and Jake Barnes (the narrator and main character) was sitting right where I was at the Iruna on the patio having a beer. He watches his friend Bill walk across the Plaza del Castillo to meet him at the table. Hemingway writes so perfectly and he drops the reader right into the story, that when I looked up from the book into the plaza, I truly expected to see Bill approaching me.

The next day we got to visit the same bullring Hem describes in the book (they give tours but it was closed for private ones on the day we were there), and took a picture with his sculpture close to the entrance. As we were walking around the area, I marvelled at at how a 27-year-old kid (his age when Sun was published) could have had so much of an impact on one town. Obviously Pamplona was important and historical centuries before Hemingway was born, but his book had an immense impact on it. On his last visit to the city in 1959, he wrote in The Dangerous Summer:

I’ve written Pamplona once, and for keeps. It is all there, as it always was, except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there… four decades ago.”

There’s a helluva lot more that go to the fiesta now, but I’m glad to be here a couple months after the bullfights that take place in July. The streets are wonderfully narrow, the buildings are charmingly medieval, and there are great cafes wherever you turn. With the right kind of eyes (and after several cervezas), I can see Jake, Bill, Brett, and Cohn head into the bullring across the street from the wine cask sidewalk table were I sit.

You must choose … Cross the puente at Arre or stay away from the town around the river?

Puente de Magdalena, crossing into Pamplona

Inside the legendary Iruna Cafe

Hemingway and the bull

Looking down one of the charming narrow streets to the Cathedral of Santa Maria

In the front or the bullring

Original 1930s fiesta poster in the cafe across from the bullring where we had drinks

Running of the bulls sculpture

Hemingway is everywhere you turn

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.