Thursday, June 22, 2017

Our Camino Portuguese, Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela, Day 1

Our Camino Portuguese, 9 April 2017 - 8 May 2017

The Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago, aka, the Camino Portuguese, is approximately 381 miles (614 km) from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela.  This route is the second most popular route, after the Camino Frances.  The majority of pilgrims who walk the Portuguese route start in either Porto (249 km to Santiago) or Valenca/Tui (117 km to Santiago), rather than Lisbon.  The main reason we wanted to walk this route starting in Lisbon was not only because it is less crowded, but also because we had walked the route from Valenca/Tui a couple years back and were fascinated by the historic significance of this route and wanted to experience more and to learn more about Portugal as well.  We also longed to walk this route completely on our own, without van support or luggage transport.  We're getting older and needed to do this sooner rather than later, so the time to do it was now.

Since we had no van support for this Camino we spent many weeks planning which items we would be able to carry in our backpacks.  Even after continuously cutting back the list, the first time we tried to put everything in our packs, there was no way to fit it all.  After cutting back again, we got everything to fit, but the packs still weighed more than the recommended 10% of bodyweight.  At that point we didn't feel that we could eliminate anything else.  We figured that, once we started walking, we would quickly figure out what else we could eliminate if the backpacks got difficult to carry.

Day 1, Sunday, 9 April 2017  Lisbon

From March 31 to April 7 we walked the last 100k from Sarria to Santiago along with 10 other Rotarians and spouses as a Fundraiser for our Rotary Club.  This Rotary Camino Fundraiser was van-supported by Spanish Steps, a travel company that offers van-supported journeys along different routes of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, France and Italy.  Spanish Steps donated all earnings to La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club for service projects.  This was an amazing journey with the greatest of kudos and thanks going to Spanish Steps for giving its all and finding a way to make such a difference for others.

After the Rotary Camino Fundraiser ended, we left our suitcases at the Hotel San Francisco Monumental in Santiago de Compostela and took a bus from Santiago to Lisbon, carrying only our backpacks with sleeping bags and hiking poles.  We arrived in Lisbon on Saturday evening, April 8, and checked in to the Ibis Hotel in the Parque das Nacoes neighborhood, near the Oriente train station.

We allowed ourselves 30 days to reach Santiago de Compostela, needing to arrive there, at the latest, by 8 May.  We also allowed ourselves the flexibility to stay an extra day at some of the places we felt we would enjoy having more time to see, and the flexibility to take a train, bus or taxi ahead if needed.  This would be our 11th Camino trek and we had already earned 5 Compostelas.  We had nothing to prove on this Camino and wanted to enjoy each moment.

Our first day was supposed to be Monday, April 10th, but in our excitement, we actually started today, Sunday, April 9, 2017.

That morning I discovered (or at least firmly believed at that moment) that I left the pilgrim passports we received from American Pilgrims on the Camino with our names preprinted, in the suitcases we left in Santiago.  I'd heard that you should arrive with your own passports because they can be difficult to obtain, so I worried about it but kept reminding myself that it will all work out as it should.  I always worry about little things.  My first lesson.

Everything did eventually fall together smoothly after only a little anxiety in the Cathedral. We got to the Cathedral just in time for the Palm Sunday procession and Mass.  As we walked back to our seats after communion, we found that our seats were taken.  We noticed some seats a couple rows behind, so we walked around the large pillar, but, by the time we got there, those seats were taken as well.  Just then, the usher began to rope off the area and scolded us for trying to walk back around the pillar to where we were before.  He was trying to block the throngs of tourists that had just begun pouring into the church since Mass hadn't ended yet.  We couldn't explain what happened.  He was just doing his job and we couldn't blame him for assuming that we were just part of the tourist crowd.

After Mass we needed to find out where to get our Pilgrim Credentials (passports) and first stamp.  A lady who spoke English told us to wait by the sacristy door and told the usher (the same usher who had scolded us) what we needed.  We had to wait quite a while because the bishop and other dignitaries were there for the Palm Sunday Mass and no one could help us until they left.  While we were waiting we spoke to a very kind, young priest who spoke English.  He confirmed what was happening and assured us that we would be helped soon.  Finally the usher came with two already stamped Credentials for us. 
Lisbon Cathedral
With our Credentials in hand, we started walking from the Cathedral, using our Camino Portuguese guidebook by John Brierley.  We had to make a few turns before we finally saw our first yellow Camino arrow, along with a blue arrow pointing out the Fatima route.  We stopped at the Fado and tile museums which were on the way and walked our 1st 10 km to our hotel (Ibis) in Parque Das Nacoes. The yellow and blue arrows were well marked so we didn't get lost yet.
Finding our first yellow and blue arrows
Fado Museum
One of the huge tile murals in the Tile Museum
 We were getting hungry by the time we got to the tile museum.  There was a cafe inside so we sat down, but service was very slow.  The tile museum was excellent, but it was getting late, we had not yet eaten lunch and we still had a way to walk, so we didn't spend as long as we would have wanted.  We continued on and finally stopped at a restaurant called Jardin...something, at Praca David Leander da Silva.  There we had an unbelievably delicious grilled salmon meal for 8 Euros each, including soup, salad, wine and dessert.  It was well worth the wait.
Our 8 Euro grilled salmon dinner
On our way home we stopped by the train station and got tickets, costing 3.05 Euros each for Santarem tomorrow morning.  Then we stopped for coffee. The waiter was from Bangladesh and we had a nice chat with him.  He wanted to give us samosas and some other Indian items on the menu.  Indian items on the menu at a coffee house in Lisbon...what a surprise!

In the evening before returning to our hotel, we continued walking along the river and the Camino route a bit more and stopped at a huge grocery store where we bought tea bags and even found powdered cream for our morning tea.  The tea that we made in our room each morning would prove to be a godsend on this Camino.  Even as we gradually eliminated things from our backpack to lighten our load, there was no way we could give up our titanium cups, heating coil and tea supplies.

We went to sleep feeling so contented and excited ... our Camino had begun!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Day 12 and 13. Up and Over the Pyrenees

Writing this on Monday, May 6. The last couple of days of our journey were intense, but we were so driven to finish the trek that we didn't realize how exhausted we were until the day after we were done.

We reached St. Jean Pied de Port on Wednesday, May 1. We were so excited to reach St. Jean, it was such a lively, beautiful town at the foot of the Pyrenees, filled with pilgrims getting ready to begin their journey to Santiago de Compostela, as it is the usual starting place for those starting the Camino in France. Those starting in Spain normally will begin n Roncesvalles, Spain. The first photo below shows us as we just arrived in St. Jean, stopping for lunch at a sidewalk cafe.

The second photo below is a copy of our map of the Pyrenees route. It shows the altitude gain of 1400 meters (4200 feet) from St. Jean, followed by a decent into Roncesvalles once we cross the border into Spain. Many pilgrims get injured on this stretch, especially if they are just starting out and are not yet used to trekking with a huge backpack.

The day before we arrived, the pass was closed because of the bad weather, but the pass opened on the day we arrived in St. Jean. That afternoon we walked the first 6 kilometers of the pass. The next day we started at the same place we left off. Getting the first 6 km of uphill done helped the next day.

On Thursday morning we continued the trek. The day started out pleasant, though cloudy. Because of trekking uphill we warmed up quickly and were just wearing our tshirt layers. Then it got windy and cold and soon started to rain. We soon had to put all our layers back on. Near the high point of the pass and downhill into Spain we came to snow that was left from the storm of the previous days. At one point we had to trek down a snow covered hill. Krishna sledded down the snow on his bottom. Several pilgrims did the same. Wish we could have taken a video of it.

On the Spain side we walked through birch tree forests. The paths were covered with carpets of birch leaves, so beautiful. As we walked into Roncesvalles it was raining. We went to the pilgrims office and received the Roncesvalles stamp in our pilgrim passport, the same stamp we received when we started our first Camino more than a decade ago. We had come full circle and have now, finally, completed this journey of 1000 miles! Such happiness and joy at that moment!

That evening we attended the pilgrim mass in the monastery church at Roncesvalles. There the priest blessed the pilgrims who were about to begin their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and we felt blessed to have finally completed our journey.

We spent some time at La Posada, a bar at the entry to Roncesvalles, greeting pilgrims as they arrived from St. Jean and sharing stories about the Camino. Krishna bought beers for many exhausted looking pilgrims and gave them lots of encouragement.

The next morning we said goodby to our friends from the US, Canada and Australia who walked with us the last 2 weeks, and began the second part of our trip. We rented a car in Pamplona are are now driving toward Santiago de Compostela, visiting some favorite places along the Camino and reliving some special moments. When we reach Santiago, our plan is to return our rental car at the airport and walk the last approximately 10 miles into the city along the Camino route (which passes near the airport) and reach the Cathedral on foot to pay homage to St. James and perform the pilgrim rituals once more.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day 11 Olhaiby to Utziate, Basque Country - rain, sun and hail

We started the day in pouring rain, wearing four layers and rain gear. Before long though the sun began to peak out of the dark clouds. We crossed a pretty bridge, called, Moulin Bridge then ascended up a rocky, slippery, muddy track to a small hamlet called, Gibraltar.

Gibraltar was a highlight of the day - it is the spot where three French Camino routes meet (the one from le Puy which we took, one from Vezeley, and one from Paris). A stone marker denotes the junction.

From Gibraltar it was an uphill trek to Soyarza Chapel at the top of a hill where we were rewarded with a most beautiful panoramic view of the Pyrenees. We were so lucky the sun was still isthmus for a while and we could enjoy the moments.

After a quick picnic lunch we started walking again and soon had to quickly put our rain gear on for a sudden downpour. Very few places have been open in the small French towns that we have been passing through, but we were lucky to find a bar open in Ostabat where we stopped to warm up with a cafe au lait.

The weather was continuously changing. Before long we had another down pour. It cleared up for a while. Then suddenly came a hail storm.

A pilgrim we met today told us that the high pass over the Pyrenees had been closed the last two days because of the weather. There are two routes that the pilgrims take. The Napoleon route is the high pass that we are hoping to take. The second route is actually the original Camino but goes along the road. When the weather is bad the high route is not safe so sometimes it is closed. We will find out tomorrow when we reach Saint Jean Pied de Port.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day 9 and 10 Navarrenx and the Eglise de l'Hopital Saint Blaise

The weather reports were saying rain for the next few days and it was so cold and windy on day 8, so we started out on day 9 wearing flu rain gear and extra layers. The day turned out to be a pleasant day and the walk was relatively shorter. We reached Navarrenx in early afternoon and had just enough time to have a beer and cafe au lait before a group lunch at our hotel (the only place open in town, since it was Sunday).

Navarrenx was the first town in France to be fortified with Italian style ramparts. The church of Saint Germaine was built in the 1500s and was soon converted to a Protestant temple. Later, in the 17th century it became a Catholic Church again. In former times Navarrenx had a significant population of Cagots ( an outcast population). Many of them became important public figures in the town.

Since we had time in the afternoon we took a drive to the Elgise de l'Hopital Saint Blaise. It is a 12th century Romanesque church that has now become a UNESCO world heritage site.

Today, day 10, turned out to be another beautiful day. Before leaving Navarrenx we walked a little on the town walls/ramparts. We covered 24 km today the country roads and paths. Saw cows, sheep, ducks, polombiere (pigeon blinds where hunters hide and wait to catch pigeons). Here and there we continue to hear cuckoos, reminding us of our dear friend, Claire, who walked with us on part 1 from Le Puy to Figeac.

Met 4 pilgrims from Germany who walk some of the Camino each year, starting from Heidelberg a few years ago. This year they will walk up to Burgos.

Staying tonight in a farmhouse run by a French/Basque family.

Hard to believe that we have only three more days of walking - 69 km to go. Day after tomorrow we will reach Saint Jean Pied de Port, then begin our Pyrenees climb.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Day 8 Rain and more rain

Today was another rainy day. Our walk was wet and cold, so we didn't take our iPad along and have no photos of the day's journey to post. We walked from Aethez-de-Bearne to the Muret Sanctuary. A shame we didn't stop there because of the weather. It was the site of the Battle of Muret in which the Catholics, led by Simon de Montfort, won a battle against the Cathars.

We would have ended our day at Muret but continued another 4 km to Sauvelade, where a church is all that remains of a Benedictine monastery, built in the 12th century. It was originally dedicated to Mary but later was dedicated to Saint James in honor of the pilgrims who stopped to rest in the abbey.

Now that we are back in our hotel the sun has come out. We looked out our window and were surprised of our view...of the Pyrenees...looking much closer now. In just a few days we'll reach them.

Our hotel has a story. It is a 12th century, 3 story house, that had been in ruins. Two English gentlemen bought the property and renovated it. Now it is a wonderful B&B. Its said that it was the home of the mistress of King Henry IV.

Forgot to mention anything about the blisters...they are there...the worst of any of our journeys. Will loose four toenails soon. Still have to keep walking. An angel is walking with us- Lois from Canada wrapped my toes in lamb's wool yesterday and it felt like I was walking on clouds.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Day 7 in Arthez-de-Bearn

We haven't had internet access for the last few days. Finally we are staying at a hotel in a town called, Arthez-de-Bearn, that has wifi so we can begin to catch up.

The last three days have been very similar - country roads and dirt paths (sometimes muddy), rolling hills.

On DAY 3 we walked about 24 kilometers. We started around 9 am and finished by 5 pm. After we were done we went by van on a side trip to Lupiac (hopefully spelled correctly) which is the town that D'Artagnan, of the three musketeers fame, lived. We planned to visit the museum, and hurried to get there before it closed, but found that it was closed on Mondays.

On DAY 4 we started from Lanne Soubiran. It had a little church with a large porch and an unusual dome. As we walked toward it we expected it to be something other than a church.

It was a long walking day, about 25 km, and pretty hot. Had a picnic lunch in a town called, Barcelonne du Gers

We ended the day at the doorstep of a hotel in Aire sur l'Adour. It was a pretty large and town along the river, Adour. There was some construction going on so we couldn't enter the church, but the next morning (DAY 5) we stopped by a local church near the hotel, a 19th century, Eglise de Sainte Quitterie, which was built on the site of a Benedictine Monastery.

On DAY 5 we walked from Aire sur l'Adour to Pimbo. The street leaving Aire sur l'Adour, was called, Rue Nelson Mandela.

Today we had our first glimpse of the Pyrenees, snow-covered in the distance. Each day from now on they will get closer.

A highlight of DAY 5 was the Eglise de Sensacq. It was an eleventh century church dedicated to St. James. It had a total immersion baptismal font for infants. Somehow it seemed so special. We had walked for so long through woods on a very hot day. Seeing this little beautiful church made us feel so peaceful. Krishna rang the church bell several times before we left. Wish we had taken photos of it on the iPad so we can post them now, but we will have to wait.

We ended the day in Pimbo after a long stretch of a narrow path. Pimbo is an old Batide village founded in 1268. It has a collegiate church of Saint-Barthelmy on the site of a monastery founded by Charlemagne.

On DAY 6, after walking about 7 kilometers, we stopped at a place called, Arzacq-Arrziguet. It is a Bstide town founded in the 14th century. The church had a stained glass window of Saint James. We stopped at a grocery store to get things to carry for a picnic lunch later, and stopped for coffee outside the church, before continuing on. We turned on a small street called, Chemin de Saint-Jacques, and walked along side of a large, artificial lake. We missed our turn off just before the end of the lake and had to backtrack to find our way again.

We ate our picnic lunch in front of a little church in Louvigny and ended our day in Larreule where there was Benedictine monastery on top of a hill above the town, founded in AD 995.

We rode to a hotel in Arthez-de-Bearn where we will stay for three nights. Happy to find that it has wifi and we can start to reconnect with everyone after three days out of touch.

Today, DAY 7, the forecast was rain. The temperature dropped more than ten degrees. It was a cool, wet and gusty day. Luckily, the walk was only 18 km, shorter than most of our days, which have usually been around 24 km. We ended our day's walk in Arthez-de-Bearn early enough to have a short Skype session with La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club just before the meeting began.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Day 3 past Eauze to past Nogaro

We just stopped in Nogaro for lunch and might be able to get Internet here. So maybe we can post a quick blog. All going good. The trek today has been vey much like the last couple days - country roads, sometimes muddy dirt paths through lots of greenery. Few towns along the way.

Few churches today. Stopped at Eglise Hopital Saint Christe, formerly belonging to the order of the Knights of Malta. The church was supposed to be locked because the guidebook says it's in dangerous condition, but it was open.

We only passed one stone cross so far. It was a discoidal cross leading to the town of Nogaro, which takes its name from Nogarium (a place planted with walnuts), established in the eleventh century. Nogaro has a Romanesque church with former hospital Saint Jacques nearby.

May not have more Internet today but we still have more kilometers ahead to walk this afternoon.