Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Sunday, July 02, 2017

How to start sloooooow....

Most pilgrims have great intentions when it comes to training for the Camino, and like New Years' Resolutions, most intentions fall by the wayside. Before you know it, it's departure day, and you haven't trained more than a few days.

Don't worry.

MOST pilgrims I've met do the bulk of their training ON the Camino!
It's not that difficult.  All you need to do is factor in a few extra days, maybe 3 or 4, and start slow by breaking those first stages up into shorter ones, increasing your distance a little each day until you are walking full stages.

The slow start begins in St. Jean Pied de Port. The stage between SJPP and Roncesvalles is only 25 kilometers, but this is where many pilgrimages end.

They don't call it "Hell Day" for nothing!

It's only 8 kilometers from SJPP to Orisson, but it is a VERY steep, VERY taxing walk. Those 8 k can take 2 or 3 hours. The pilgrim is exhausted and likely has shin splints, and the next part of the trip is extremely steep going DOWNhill, using muscles that aren't used to the pounding.  On my first Camino, I had made arrangements to split this day up into two. Then a well-meaning hospitalero told me, "Aww.. it's EASY.. just go the whole way!" and I, unfortunately, listened.

I hobbled into Roncesvalles, crying and broken, and cursing his name!
It was almost the end of my Camino.
I never again took this stage in one day.

And so what to do?
Here's what.  Break up that first day into TWO days.

Make a reservation for night 1 in SJPP and a reservation for night 2 in Orisson.  If Orisson is full, make reservations for TWO nights in SJPP.

Day 1, you will get up and out by 8 or 9 am and walk up to Orisson.
You'll get there in time for brunch/lunch, and a nice rest.
The soup at the albergue at Orisson is wonderful, as are the bocadillos.
Grab some food, find a comfortable place to sit, and watch all the pilgrims come huffing and puffing up the hill.  People watch!

You can sit inside, where it's warm and cozy.

Or if the weather is warm, outside in the sunshine!

If you've booked two nights in SJPP, there is a shuttle both morning and afternoon going to and from Orisson.  At 2 pm, the shuttle picks pilgrims up at Orisson and takes them back down to SJPP, where you will spend your 2nd night.

Day 2, you get up early and grab the shuttle up to Orisson, where you will have coffee, then walk up to the summit to see the Virgin.

Hopefully, there will be a food cart along the way, with hot coffee, cocoa, and snacks.

Stop at the fountain to fill up your water and rest, and maybe eat something, then continue on.

One you reach the top, you begin your steep descent into Roncesvalles.    The trail can be VERY washed out and slippery when wet, so please go slow and take care.

Soon, you come out of the woods and there in the distance is Roncesvalles!

You will arrive tired, but not exhausted. You will not have strained muscles and shin splints, blisters or heat exhaustion. You will arrive in time to get your bed, make your dinner reservations, wash your clothes, and go to the Pilgrim Mass. And you will be better rested for the also-difficult trek into Zubiri.  Note:  Roncesvalles does NOT provide blankets so if you sleep cold, you'd better take a sleeping bag.

Day 3, you have a 22 kilometer walk ahead of you.

Take it slow.

Get up and walk to Burguete or Espinal for breakfast and coffee. There is a grocery store along the way where you can grab snacks or lunch if you wish.

IF IT HAS BEEN RAINING, take a long lunch to rest, because the descent into Zubiri is also slippery and dangerous.  Stop along the trail and take your shoes and socks off. Give yourself a foot rub.  If you'd like to break this stage into two days, there are Casa Rurales at Gerendiain and at Espinal. There are bars at Espinal, Gerendiain (Viskarret) and a food wagon is almost always on the trail before your descent into Zubiri.

Lodging in Zubiri:  I don't particularly care for the municipal albergue here. I find it dirty and tight. I much prefer staying in either El Palo Avellano, a private albergue where you must make reservations, or in Pension Amets, where you also must make reservations.  There are other pensions in Zubiri and I think you can find them on  Sometimes it makes just as much sense financially to book a private room for 2, 3, or 4 as it does to stay in a crowded albergue.

Day 4, get up and walk the 18+ kilometers into Pamplona. If you'd like to cut a few kilometers off this stage, consider staying in Trinidad de Arre at the convent.

Trinidad de Arre is a nice little suburb just before Pamplona and there is a market as well as restaurants there. The convent is right along the river.  It has a nice back yard to relax in, a good sitting room, and a good kitchen for cooking. When we stayed there in 2006, they had one separate room for married couples with 4 bunks in it and they had a snoring room! I'm not sure if that's still the case.

Next morning you could go explore Pamplona and stay in Jose y Maria or keep walking through to Zariquegui, a wonderful village near the top of Alto del Perdon.  This puts you in a nice position "between stages" that other pilgrims are walking, helping you miss the race for a bed.

Lodging in Pamplona:  You have many choices here. If you arrive early enough, you might be lucky to get into Casa Paderborn, just after you cross the river. This is a wonderful small albergue run by a German Confraternity. They do not take reservations, and I've arrived as early as noon, and just sat outside to wait for them to open.  It's that nice.

Here is a link where you can see more photos:


The municipal albergue, Jose y Maria, is clean, but huge.

If you'd like more privacy, consider booking a bed at Casa Ibarrola Albergue, right on the edge of Pamplona as you enter after crossing the drawbridge.  They have nice little enclosures where you sleep in privacy, and are quite affordable. They have good hot showers and a place to store your pack.

Beware of a scam as you cross the drawbridge. Young people will wait and ask to use your camera/iPhone to take your photo. Once it's in their hand, they run and your camera/phone runs with them.

If you're still wanting to take it slow, next day just walk to Uterga, where you will find the Camino del Perdon Albergue with 16 places.

Back in 2006 when I walked the first time, we stopped in Uterga. At that time, there was a tiny municipal albergue with only 2 beds. There was a Mexican peregrina there when we arrived. She and I each took a bunk and Joe slept on a mat on the floor.  This is a photo of the entire albergue!

Things have changed... on that trip, we had no problems finding lodging.
The tiny municipal has closed now.
The WAY is much busier.
Those of us who are "old timers" long for the peace and quiet . . . so we constantly look for new routes. But for the new pilgrim, the Camino Frances is an exciting place to be.

Do yourself a favor and take it slow the first few days.
Then, get between the wave of pilgrims and go with your instincts.

Whether you choose to walk with a group or go solitary,
have a Buen Camino!


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