Day 1- Saint Jean to Orisson 8km
Arriving to the quaint French town of Saint Jean Pied de Port, the famous pilgrim town to begin the Camino de Santiago, I immediately headed for the pastry shop. I grabbed a chocolate croissant and headed off to collect my pilgrim passport. The town was so pretty and the vibe was exciting. I met a new friend from Korea who began the journey with me. With passports on hand, a sense of adventure and determination, we headed off on the steep incline towards Orisson. There we planned to stay the night and continue to Rocanvalles the next day. Some people had opted to do the whole journey to Saint Jean to Rocanvalles but after a very challenging beginning, I was so happy to have made the choice to stay. Refuge Orisson, the only one there, had the most spectacular views over the green rolling hills of the Pyrenees. After a shower, and meeting new friends, I took a seat up high on the garden bench looking over the panoramic view whilst soaking up the sun and silence. It was magical and highly highly recommended. For €36 you had a dorm bed in a 6 bed dorm, breakfast, communal dinner (they made me a special vegetarian one) including local wine and for €5 more they offered lunch for the next days hike. It was an expensive beginning but worth every cent. After a nap, we gathered together for our special communal dinner which was so so nice. We got chatting to everyone, told stories, introduced ourselves to the group and are good hearty food. Tomorrow we would continue the trail towards Rocanvalles, another step closer on the Camino.
Day 2- Orisson to Rocanvalles
With a plan to set off early after breakfast, we woke up at 6:10 to see the sunrise. The mist was surrounding that we were unable to see the sun rise at all. We got ready and headed down for breakfast which was included in our €36 fee. With a belly full of bread and coffee, we set off to climb the last of the challenging Pyrenees to the highest point on the journey. They said that the beginning was the hardest and today we would hike 8km up and the rest of the hike would be steep downhill for another 8km. The trail began on the main road with some up and downward hills, strong winds at the top and some very rugged and rocky terrain on the steep decent. We stopped along the way for some breaks at the infamous food truck in which a local provided pilgrims with lots of snacks and a stamp for the pilgrim passport, as well as the French/Spanish border and various places a long the way to catch our or have a snack. We had lots of laughs the whole way and even caught up with a Peruvian guy me met at the albergue (hostel), who we continued to walk with along the way. We swapped 'Buen Camino' with various pilgrims as they passed us and continued until we saw the sign for only 500m left. We had hiked almost 17km in 4 hours and arrived at our Albergue in Rocanvalles. Our pilgrim routine of taking a shower, washing laundry and napping before our communal dinner was ever present and I was so comforted by the cosiness and the atmosphere f my surroundings. Tomorrow we had the longest day of the hike so far so it was important to rest our bodies, eat well and relax our mind. I was beginning to wonder why I hadn't done this sooner.
Day 3 Roncesvalles to Zubiri 20km
Waking up this morning in the largest dorm I've ever encountered was not as bad as I thought. Despite heaps of people around me, there was a sense of privacy and comfort as well as the added bonus of no one snoring during the night. Everyone wandered tiredly to and from the bathroom around 6am, preparing to start the day to Zubiri and even further. We walked for 2km on a lovely forest pathway until we reached a cafe and supermarket where we had breakfast and got snacks for the day. We continued to walk with the rest of the other pilgrims through rolling hills, farms, forests and roads stopping at the only local bar cafe along the way for lunch. We continued on and despite having to change shoes because of my poor pained feet, I made it to Zubiri with happy toes. Here, we did some laundry (felt amazing to clean everything) and then went for an way pilgrim dinner. This is the common name for meals here and it generally meant that for a set price €10-12 you got a starter, main, dessert and drinks which lined our stomachs for the evening. We then hung around spending the evening laughing and joking about the days events - in particular when we met a Norwegian lady from our last hostel who arrived and told us the story that she swallowed a fly on the trail which in turn led her to vomit and then she took a nap right there on the trail while her friend set the alarm in case she slept too much. We laughed so much just like we laughed about almost everything we encountered over these past few days. The vibes and atmosphere of my newly found group of Camino pilgrims was contagious. Tomorrow we would wake early to walk to the next place, a place I was familiar with- the city of Pamplona. Another step closer to Santiago, we were so excited.
Day 4- Zubiri to Pamplona. 20km.
With tired legs, backs and arms we finally arrived in bustling Pamplona and have gained a few new members to the group. We now consist of 4 Koreans, 1 US, 1 Swedish, 1 German, 1 French and 1 Irish which is unheard of when walking the Camino. We arrived to the albergue which is also a church that raises donations, to find some of our other friends from a long the way. I was so happy to be here and appreciated every minute despite the ever present knee pain, feet pain and back pain, not to mention the flu I was suffering with. We were so excited to be in our first city of Pamplona and that evening was one of the best we had on the whole camino. Our group went out for sangria, tapas and mussels that evening and made amazing memories and connections in this beautiful vibrant city.
Day 5- Pamplona to Puente le Reina
iAs every morning starts we began with a quick breakfast at the albergue and set off through the beautiful streets of Pamplona as a large group of 8. We walked to the outskirts of Pamplona and up into the hills reaching a beautiful array of sunflowers. Today was by the far the best day for scenery. The rolling hills around Pamplona along with the beautiful colours of the sunflowers lining the path were like something from a Windows screensaver. In the distance there were castles on hills and small villages perched above, one in which we stopped in for a break. After a quick coffee and 'Beun Camino' to our fellow pilgrims, we continued on towards Puente le Reina. Along the way, almost as if it was by fate, a fountain situated in a small sleepy town, invited us in. We filled out water bottles and better yet, we soaked our poor tired feet in the cold water pond. This was the best feeling ever known to me, at the time. After relaxing on the sun and having some snacks, we set off on the last leg of the journey. On our final stretch we entered a beautiful church where we got yet another stamp for our pilgrim passport (these could be obtained at cafes, churches, bars and of course your albergue for the night). When we arrived we checked in to the €5 hostel which had a lovely stream in the back yard as well as a lush garden to relax in. After showering, we chilled in the garden before going to the town for a delicious pilgrim meal. Generally this means three course and a drink for €10 but our drink included almost a bottle of wine/sangria each. Everyone was having a great time in Puente de le Reina, meeting friends, sharing laughs and enjoying the local cuisine. I was so thankful to have experienced a beautiful day like this.
Day 6 Puente la Reina to Estella
Today we woke up again at 6:15 and left the albergue by 7am. This place was great for €5, it had a beautiful garden area to relax and personally I had a great sleep. We decided to go to the next town for breakfast to get a headstart but after 3km hiking uphill in the morning heat we realised we should have eaten first. Nevertheless, we found a local cafe which provided delcious breakfast snacks and good coffee as always. We continued along the way through dirt paths crossing vineyards and valleys which had a mix of terrain. The day was relatively easy apart from the very beginning and the very end when we encountered the hottest of the sun. During our walk we stopped at the various villages, eco rest area with book exchange, a makeshift bar and another small town where we had a delicious paella lunch. Today seemed to be the day where we rested a lot and by the end we realised we should probably have avoided this in order to avoid the sun. Coming towards the last few Kms we were greeted by a welcome sign into Estella which to us, meant the town was nearby- we joked that it was the longest entrance into any town in Spain. Thirsty for water, we were then greeted with a fresh water fountain which almost seemed surreal considering how parched we were in the afternoon sun. We checked into Anfas albergue which raises money for the mentally ill and was the place that most of our pilgrim friends were staying too. It was hard to believe that tomorrow would mark 1 week of the Camino.
Day 7 Estella to Los Arcos
This morning we set off just after 7am as well as the other pilgrims. We picked up the pace and only stopped to see the famous wine fountain and have lunch before arriving. Having well passed the 100km mark at this point, our bodies are starting to get used to the long distances now but the feet are still not blister free. We walk at least 21km a day and this distance will Increase as the days go on and the places become further apart. It still seems like it's only a tiny section of the map but my feet are proof that I've walked as far as I have. As I mentioned earlier, we passed by the famous Fuente De Irache (Wine Fountain) which is located at Bodega Irache, a vineyard. They have 100L of wine which they give our for free every day to pilgrims passing by and I had read about this beforehand. It was an ample opportunity to fill up a bottle for the way. The day included a pass by two small villages and the rest (13km) was no man's land with nothing but a random food truck blaring pop music in between the never ending road to Los Arcos. The heat was starting to increase but we arrived in the early afternoon to be told today we have free paella and wine for St James day. 😍 My legs and body are not as sore as in the beginning but my feet are starting to fall apart. I have switched back to my hiking boots since yesterday but with this heat, I may switch back to my hiking sandals for the rest of the trip. The sweat doesn't allow the feet to heal either so it's best to give them a breather. Tomorrow will be 29km, the longest we have done but will be okay with my sandals I'm hoping. Our feast this evening was incredible. The whole village came together to cook is a delicious meal and welcome us as pilgrims. We drank wine and mingled with new people which was so much fun. I am loving every day of this journey whether it's a challenging day, easy day, hot day or cold day. Every minute is special, every person I meet is special and each evening I get to arrive in a beautiful town with my new friends and reflect on the day as we relax our ever aching feet