Pamplona, the capital of the Navarra province.

A short tour of the local area and some fun time.  Crissy and I pretend we can see the bulls running toward us at this fence in the middle of the City Center in Pamplona.  The “Running of the Bulls” is a 400 year old festival celebrated every morning for eight days during the San Fermin festival. It runs from July 6th  to 14th.  We also of time for café helado (a frothy coffee ice cream), yummo!

We celebrate Mass in this beautiful chapel of “Our Lady of the Way” in the church of San Saturnino just off the City Center where the “running of the bulls” takes place.  This church was built in the 13th century.  Our Lady has a special place in the hearts of the people of Pamplona, indeed, in all of Spain.

August 21st, 2018 Roncesvalles to Zubiri and Pamplona

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Having overslept, I quickly dressed, packed my luggage,  and gathered my day pack, filled my water and dashed down to breakfast.  Fortunately, Gus Lloyd leads the group in the rosary giving me a chance to collect myself for today’s 13.5 mile walk to Zubiri.  I do not have time to think about my achy knees.

Knee supports in place, with prayer and nourishment, I am ready for whatever the Camino has in store for me!  Lorenzo and German, our guides on the Camino, have prepared us for the ups and downs of the Camino to Zubiri.    Lorenzo suggest I walk to the check point and see how my knees feel and consider forgoing the 3.5 mile steep, short descent before lunch.  We have many more days and miles to cover and there is no sense aggravating my sore knees and missing out on future Camino adventures.  This proves to be great advise as there are some gentle hills and rocky slopes to climb even before we encounter the last steep descent.

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This is day 2 on the Camino and I am still trying to gather my thoughts about this adventure… this personal retreat.  This band of perregrinos is joyous, exuberant and filled with energy.  I am contemplative, mindful of my limitations and appreciative of my companions’ enthusiasm.  The Camino is both solitude and communal.  This is daily reflection and prayer in action.  It is more than a personal, physical challenge.  This is also a gift.

Start the Camino! 1st Stage: St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles (15.6 miles)

August 20, 2018

Our guide book says, “we start the journey from St. Jean Pied de Port at 146m over sea level (about 480 feet above sea level), climbing constantly until we reach a maximum elevation of 1450m (4,757 feet) above sea level” over 10 miles. Uh, that’s equivalent to a 439 story building! “A great difference in elevation which requires a great physical effort”, (tell me about it!). We are “rewarded by one of the most amazing views in all the Camino”. This is true. “Upon reaching the maximum elevation, there is a very sharp, short descent into Roncesvalles”. Actually, there is a choice on the descent, a steep, loose rocky path or a steep, yet more gradual and longer grassy/rocky slope. Yes, I chose the longer one. The knees required it!

By the way, did I mention about the availability of “facilities”? Halfway up at about 6.5 miles, there was a little place called Orisson. Here there was a café and albuergue and an opportunity to use the toilet, “servicio or facility”. I did not stop. I wanted to make it to our check point at the Cross of Thybault, grab a snack and continue on. My fellow peregrinos were no where in sight though I had many other companions along the way struggling more or less with me. Lorenzo, one of our 2 guides, caught up with me and walked the remaining last 4 miles into Roncesvalles. He kindly secured some privacy so I could “relieve” myself “al natural” along the way (3 liters of water later!). Did you know that 3 liters of water is 3lbs! This additional weight in your day pack, uncomfortable as it may be, is extremely necessary for hydration.

We arrived in Roncesvalles about one hour before the Pilgrims’ Mass, which I think was about 7pm. I was greeted by my companions with hoots and praises. Exhausted as I was, I had my Camino passport stamped, headed to my room, showered and dressed for the Mass. A little late but I made it. What a day! I survived grateful and thanked God I did!

Roncesvalles

Leaving the village of St.Jean Pied de Port our bus takes us to our hotel in Roncesvalles. The road climbs steadily through the Pyrenees in a series of switch backs. I feel the pressure change in my ears and my stomache is a little queasy. Sitting in the back of the bus was perhaps not the best choice! Hmmm, a sample of tomorrow’s climb on foot, of course. On our way, we stop at Roncevaux Pass, the site of the famous Roland’s death. A much revered figure who fought against the Islamic forces with Charlemagne. There is also a little chapel and an archeological dig here also. Here a hostel once stood managed by monks who cared for pilgrims who succumb to the unpredictable weather of the Pyrenees. There is even a little graveyard. The remains are believed to have been removed.

We return to our bus and on to the hotel, the Casa de Beneficiados in Roncesvalles. This hotel is in the heart of the Pyrenees and a restored 18th century monastery building. It is a popular starting point on the Camino.

Tonight we will get the “lay of the land”,so to speak, at our meeting before dinner. The time we start and where we begin our trek up the mountain, the check point, where our 2 guides will be and the terrain expectations.

St.Jean Pied de Port

We arrived in this little french village amid the Basque festival. We see fellow peregrinos, families enjoying this Sunday’s celebrations and everywhere the music from gaily dressed local bands marching through the streets and people singing in local bars. We walk through the narrow undulating cobble stoned street, Rue de la Citadelle and past the beautiful centuries old church of Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont. Here also is the portal, Porte d’Espagne, where we will begin our Camino on Monday morning. Enjoying some gelato, watching the locals and joining in the happy music, we wander through the town. Realization is setting in as we cross the stone bridge again over the Nive River. Here is where the first half of a 500 mile trek to Santiago will begin… tomorrow, August 20, 2018.

Loyola

August 19th, 2018
Our bags are repacked and ready to be loaded on the bus, breakfast at 8am and boarded at 830am. We are on our way to visit the Basilica of Loyola and the birthplace of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.
St. Ignatius Loyola was born in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain and a basque. As a young man Ignatius Loyola was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds (somewhat reminescent of Francis of Assisi).
But in 1521 Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French. While recuperating, Ignatius Loyola experienced a conversion. Reading the lives of Jesus and the saints made Ignatius happy and aroused desires to do great things. Ignatius realized that these feelings were clues to God’s direction for him. It is in this room that we celebrated Sunday Mass. Truly I felt we were standing on Holy Ground and I prayed I would have the stamina and fortitude for this Camino journey. After Mass we proceeded to the Basilica where people were gathering for Mass. While this space was magnificent, it did not have the same sacredness of Ignatius’ room.

We proceeded to the onsite restaurant for a light lunch of pintxos and wine. Having satisfied our hunger we returned to the bus and St.Jean Pied du Port.

San Sebastián, Spain (Basque Country)


August 18th, 2018.  So here is where I and 23 fellow peregrinos and 2 guides meet and begin our journey to Santiago de Compostela.  If you have read my previous blog written in April of 2016, you know that this is not my first encounter with the Camino pilgrimage of St. James.  This Camino starts in France at St. Jean Pied de Port and is one of the most travelled.  We will walk halfway to Santiago this year and the remaining half in August of 2019.  It’s about 500 miles total. 

We arrived in San Sebastián on Saturday in mid afternoon.  Hotel rooms are not quite ready so the luggage and backpacks are secured and we head out for lunch on our own.  The streets are busy with people who have come to celebrate the Basque Country festival of the Virgin Mary.  The month of August is celebration/vacation time in Europe, especially here in the Basque provinces of Spain where culture and heritage are proudly celebrated.  The beach is crowded, the plazas are crowded. People everywhere. There are board games setup on side streets for children.  There are marching bands parading up and down the streets in white shirts and pants with red hats and red neckerchiefs and others in blue and white. Volleyball on the beach and basketball tournaments in progress. 

After lunch we return to the hotel, grab our bags and head to our rooms for a tour with the local guide, Mass and dinner at 8pm.  The day is going by in a blur.  There is a get acquainted meeting with wine and pintxos (pronounced “ponchos” aka tapas) just before dinner.  I am pretty sure I had fish because this region is known for its seafood but I am still trying to adjust to the time zone and limited sleep.  The group plans on watching the fireworks but bed is calling to me.  Perhaps I can catch the show from my room.

Santiago de Compostela and the end of Camino

We arrived at the Hotel which was a Franciscan Monastery.  The rooms are lovely, spacious, clean and comfortable with a large bathroom.   Three of us decide at dinner to get up early, eat breakfast and head over to the Cathedral to hug the statue of St. James the Great.  We enter through the Holy Doors.  The Cathedral is relatively empty.   There are some people waiting for Mass to start in the side Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.  I stop in here to pray briefly because it reminds me of my visit to Rome.  St Peter’s also has a side Chapel to the Blessed Sacrament.

We wonder through the main Cathedral taking some pictures while it remains quiet.  I tried to get a picture of the massive gold and silver main altar.  The brightness of it makes for a difficult shot.  I am not much of a photographer but I do my best.  There are huge ornate pipe organs over the center aisle.  Santiago on a white horse sits atop one side.  You can barely see him.  Google probably has better pictures of the Cathedral than I do. YouTube also features the botafumeiro.  Being there following your Camino pilgrimage is entirely a different experience.

We three head over to the pilgrims office to obtain our Compostela having completed our Camino.  There is a very short line and we are out in no time with our certificates of completion.  We place our certificates in our rooms and head down to the lobby to meet with the others for 12 noon Mass ( the reserved section for pilgrims).  Father Diego is going to concelebrate with other pilgrim priests and the Monsignor.  He gets to proclaim the Gospel.  We are in the second row from the altar.   Some representatives of pilgrims from other groups present petitions at the Prayer of the Faithful.  It is just before the final blessing that the  8 tiraboleiros in their red robes step up to light the thurible (botafumiero) of frankincense.  It is swung across the altar to the eves of the Cathedral at approximately 70km/hr.  The incense fills the church everywhere.  It is a symbol of our prayers and petitions rising to the heavens and a final blessing of our efforts on the Camino.

Time for a quick snack and on to the walking tour with a local guide at 3pm.  We shop a little after the tour, look for ice cream and then back to our hotel for late farewell dinner.  Some of us will be leaving at 4am and 630am to catch our flights back to the States.  Some are staying to visit Finisterra, or Lisbon or Barcelona.  I am anxious to go home.  While the rigors of this Camino are over, life presents an on going camino.  I pray I am up to the journey.