Friday, May 29, 2009


Got to Navarette very easily and decided to try to walk an extra 16 k to catch up with friends. At Ventosa I´d had enough and styaed there ina lovely quiet refugio. 28 k is my best distance ever. Walked part of way with very fit Spanish lawyer. Time passed so easiily as we talked and walked. Only drawback of refuge, the hospitallero who chainsmoked. Cut my toenails in dim light and to my horror cut a blister. Big danger of infection so next day walked the 10 k to Najera and the Centro de Salud (health centre.) Treatment prompt (ahead of everyone in the waiting room, and absolutely free, including gauze and iodine. To hold the gauze on is the same sotrt of elastic sausage as butchers use to hold a rolled roast together.)
Could not get to the Information Centre or refurbished monastery and cloisters because they were being opened that day by either the Queen´s physician (2 Spaniards told me that) or the Queen´s daughter, slightly more likely. The excitement was intense. Helicotpter came, then the motorcade with a gloved hand all that could be seen. People running for the best view.
Refuge closed as welll so went with an Italian couple to St Millan and its 2 monateries, Yuso and Suso, which are World Heritage (Patrimonio de Humanidad) listed. They shut the doors as we arrived. Manfred hitchhiked and got there early. Because he spoke German he was assigned an elderly German monk as sole guide, so saw wonders others missed out on. The monasteries are built on Roman foundations, with Visigoth, Mozarab, Romanico, and later sections easily seen. One room was completely floored in alabaster and had frescoes as bright and fresh as first painted. Huge volumes of cantorales, the music books for the liturgy, were on slides in cupboards. The lightest weighed 20 kg and heaviest 100 kg. (Imagine that! Just get the next book
out, Brother Placid. Mind your back.)
So we took the next bus back and collected Manfred on the way. Then, despite dire warnings of toe falling off, I walked with June Masudo, a Japanese seeker of Christian truth, to Azofra to a wonderful new refuge which must have cost millions. It was nearly full - three stories of 20 twin rooms with plenty of room and storage space. There were tonnes of hot water, and the noisiest toilets outside a plane.
Next day walked with June to Santo Domingo. The cathedral has been done up and a museum added in the cloisters. They have now banned photography, probably to get people to buy their postcards. Managed to take a few ( I put the camera down, using the timer, and take very good pics thank you, but after 7 or 8 a plainclothed vigilante came up and ticked me off. Put camera away or get out. It bugged me. I´m not going to buy one postcard. But if they said I could take pics for 5€ I´d have cheerfully paid. There are wonderful treasures there, but it is not as wonderful as Durham or Salisbury at both of which places I paid 3 or 5 pounds.
We (5 of us) ate in and had a big struggle with some French people for stove and table space. June and I bought the food and Bernd (Germany) and Maria (Denmark) cooked. A good, close time.
5 tears ago I did not have enough fruit or veg but this time I have plenty. A bocadilla (filled baguette) usually has jamon y queso but I now add to that tomate and lechuga (lettuce). Also have to have banana for potassium and salts for dehydration. Hands are still a bit swollen though.
Now off to Belorada after which point 5 yrs ago I bussed to Burgos. Not this yr, I hope.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Walked fairly easily today through Torres del Rio where there is a marvellously well preserved 12th c Templar church in the shape of an octagon. Last time I walked on by but this year we got in! It´s very interesting and moving.
Then on to Viana (Bee-AH-na) where most of the sights are wrecks on the way to ruins or ruins. It is a good albergue with a large kitchen and larger dining room like an old Hall in England. It was 19 km and unfortunately three of my friends chose to walk on and extra 10 km. Only one is left, and he is a polyglot and very out going so is the life of the party in french, German, Italian (that´s this evening), and Spanish. No doubt someone else will come out of the wood work.
Went to the pilgrim mass at 8 and the yound priest made it very clear that the communion was for catholics in good standing etc etc so against my usual judgement I did participate in it. There was a blessing after, and the chapel itself was most interesting, with several of the old manuscripts out on display. There were also the usual doleful saints with a bit of them exposed on arm or chest.
Gotta go

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


For the third time! With no warning, I was cut off twice, at a € a time. Here goes again .
We left Estella at 7:15 and made slowish time until Villamajor de Monjardin after which the farm tracks were used and way much easier. We made the 21 km to Los Arcos in 5h 45 m whcih we were happy with. The sun was mostly obscured so the temp was down, a blessing. Now, at 10 to 4 it´s quite hot.
Los Arcos is a slumberously muted town, especially on a hot Sunday arfternoon. It,s major claim to fame is a beautiful church, S Maria de los Arcos, from the 16th c. It was ´improved´in the 18th c with a swirling froth of gold and statues behind the altar with a truiumphant Mary at the Apex.
Every part of the walls and curved arches and ceilings is covered with gleaming bronze plasterwork in a circular pattern. There is an organ with the distinctive >SpaNISH TRUMPETS, and some wonderfully carved places in the choir. This was the area for the priests to stand and there was a tiny seat for them to lean against. For longer services (or boring bits?) they could lower a whole seat.
One of our walkers is like an elderly elf, all floppy grey hair and arms who leans to the left and sings as she arhythmically swings her arms. She smiles all the time and loves chatting to all she comes across. Her husband is as solid as the wood carvings he makes at their home. They walk slowly but rest infrequently so also make good time. They are used to ´rambling´ in England.
Deb, a guy OI met in France, the tour guide at St Guilhem le Desert recognised my accent so I asked him what he knew about Australia. He reeled off a few facts and some slang before saying that he loved Aussie music. Australia, he said, had the best bamnds in the world!
As the walk goes on I am astonished at the numbers. 5 years ago we had a rolling group of 40. Tjis year it must be 140 or more. In a way, it makes the way lonelier as it easier to get lost in such a large crowd. There are at least 12 Australians, several NZers, Quebecois, Brasilians, Swiss, Germans, ut mainly French and >spanish.
Gotta go.. Don´t want to lose this!

S Maria de los Arcos choir (part of the church where the choir sits)

S Maria de los Arcos dome

Sunday, May 17, 2009


G´day again
the Euro
It´s worth more than the Aussie dollar so our money doesn´t go as far. It is dearer here in Spain than five years ago but cheaper than in France for most things. There are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cent as well as 1 and 2€ coins. Then there are 5, 10, 20, 0, and 100€ notes. We pilgrims tend to hold out a hand full of change when we buy something as at first we hand over a notre for each opurchase. Then with pockets bulging from coins, we can usually buy food and so on with the change.
Today is Saturday (Sabado) and all the shops shut at 2pm or before. Some remain shut until Monday, and those that open on Saturday and especially Sunday are not open at all on Monday, or until Monday arvo. We went looking for food at 2pm and it was not until 3 that we actually ate. There were four of us - Jean-Guy from New Brunswick in Canada, fluent in French and English, his walking companion Gertrude from Germany (she attached herself to him as someone safe and is never far away from him), Peter from Sydney, and me. We were in a bar and they weren´t going to make bocadillos or ensalata mixta for anyone. So we had naranja (orange juice) and tapas, small portions of food on a central plate. J-G also had coffee and the total was 17€. 4€ each and a pleasant time.
Peter and I then went looking for a chemist (Farmacia) as he has blister and cracked feet probs. We got Compeed for the blisters OK, but to get the totally Spanish speaking chemist to understand what was required for P´s feet was difficult. We knocked the first one back as it seemed to be cosmetic for women (sorry ladies if that is offensive). So we chose another that looked more medical and I went through the instructions.
We worked out that the feet must be washed then thoroughly dried (secos) before the treatment was applied. Noticeable improvement in one week was a bit disappointing. P wants it to be by tomorrow morning. I made it clear that it was not to be an exfoliating treatment. Yep, she really understood that bit. Let´s hope we´ve made a suitable choice. One of P´s blisters is infected already and this is quite serious.
Then we found a supermercado about the size of Coles in Glenferrie and bought some tinned salad, bread, tinned sweet corn and we´re eating in.
C U later


G´day Folks
The unseasonably hot weather continues. We are starting as soon as possible but when I need to go to the loo before starting the day this does mean it´s closer to 8am than 7 when we get going.
Road building has made our routes problematic. Today´s was much longer than it should have been and involved much uphill and down dale. With the Carrix this made it very difficult, as opposed to yesterday when our bolsas (backpacks) were transported to Puenta la I made a detour need the end of the stage and saw the old >templar church of S Maria at Eunate. Very nice. Stayed in a new albergue which was spacious and even nicer!
Today we are in Estella, a place groaning with medieval stuff. The albergue is a buit tired but OK. It costs only 5.5€ incl breakfast

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Went to Cizur >Menor yesterday. 5 yrs ago there were just 12 places in the private albergue. Now there are at least 52 and the lady is building a further 2 storey place. The numbers of pilgrims so early in the year has taken us all by surprise. People are leaving really early to be first in line at the next place. really, there won´t be much of a problem as people will spread out. Some will go 25-30 km and others 15 to 20. The weather has been just superb for the last 4 days. We have been promised a week of fine weather but yesterday got ot 30! Even the locals can´t believe it as they had very heavy rain for over a week and before that - snow!
Picked up the parcel I sent myself to the PO. System worked well.
Budget is holding up better. Refuges 6-7 € and evening meals 8 -10€. Starting to buy food and make lunch but this doesn´t save much as a bocadillo is cheap. (Baguette sandwich, usually with cheese and ham.) Can buy 1.5 l of water for .40€ or so. When the refuges have cooking facilities >I´ll have to start that. Pity. It´s nice to have someone else do it.
Walked today to Puenta la Reina to a newish alberge. To get more business as they are at the other end of town, they organised for free transport of our backpacks. A great offer most took up. I´l see if I can use the guy´s services for tomorrow as well. (That´s as far as he goes.)
Tried to get on to Netbank. Sorry says the message at last. We are starting a you beaut service which will be available tomorrow. Gee thanks I say.
Gotta go

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Not much time.
Left Lodeve by bus for Montpellier, then took train to Toulouise, then Bayonne. Stayed overnight so i could go to Decathlon and buy a poncho. At least now, if it rains I´ll be dry to start with.
Next day tiny train to St Jean Pied de Port. Most people on board were pilgrims. I got off, found my way and started walking to Valcarlos, about 8 km away. This was all on the road and part of the time was quite scary. The other route is far harder and longher, so out of the question for me.
Next day, up the winding road. Over 17 km ascended 1000 m. Got to top OK but wind so strong it took away my waterfproof cover for the sac. I am much more confident now with the Carrix. But the harness is a fool of a thing. I keep wishing I couold get one from MacPac: then it would fit, properly, each time. Got to Roncesvalles before 1pm but gee, it was hard. Still, easier route or not, ¡I crossed the Pyrenees! Spent a lot of time with Allan from Auckland, and his two sons Derek from Wellington and Robin from Gold Coast. Good people. Poor sleep. Snorers.
Woke with a terrible back, so sore I could not stand up straight so I tried to contact a guy to take my sac for me. Recorded message - lost my only coin, a Euro for goodness sake. Anyway, as I walked the back freed up and I actually have made it to Loan something or other, 6 km further than i made last time. And this time I don,t feel I have damaged myself! Bonus.
Tomorrow I go to Pamplona to pick up a parcel i sent myself and then it´s onward and upward again!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


G’day Folks
Yesterday I ran out of time. Liz Otto is 60, German, and married to a retired high executive of a major international company. She has three boys, one of whom is 30 and for the past 2 yrs he has been Associate Concert Master of the St Louis(?) Symphony Orchestra in USA. There were 100+ applicants and the selection process lasted a week. The candidates were not allowed to make any noises which could identify them in any way, even to walking on a thick carpet and being hidden from the adjudicators by a curtain. The orchestra had fallen on hardish times so that they could no longer tour. Then a donor gave them a challenge. Take this 42 million dollars and double it within 5 years! That was why they were able to start
the selection process for young blood. Liz’s son had always aspired to be a soloist but had very little work. With the "challenge", however, he has been playing solos all the time, in small and large groups, in major and minor concerts, as well as for private performances for the wealthy. One old man was given the birthday gift of his own concert. He is wheel-chair bound and was completely overcome by their playing for him. In just 2 years the orchestra has raised another 42 million so is well on the way to meeting the challenge. Good story!
(forget what I covered yesterday)
Had a kebab and Turkish sweets for tea. Went back to lodgement, read the welcome guest info (rare event) to find there is a sitting room. Very good! Beats squatting on a stool. Found my German fellow pilgrims there and we had a good chat. They have retired and are spending their time in athletic feats. This trip they are walking to Toulouse. On returning to Koln they are going to kayak down the Oder - the border between Germany and Poland.
This morning had breakfast with the other guests then took the bus to La Caylar, a village 20 km away and higher. It was raining lightly all the time and visibility was poor. Still, the reason for my coming to Lodéve was to travel on to the village of La Couvertoirade (Coo-vairr-twah-rah-de) built by the Templars to guard pilgrims. It still has its wall and is grey granite and all. Rang for a taxi and he turned me down! It was only 7 km away but it was cold and wet, and my wonderful wet weather Goretex-style top leaks on the arms and just above the waist. 180 Euros! Don’t know what I can do about it as I bought it in Nice. In Bayonne I’ll have to buy a poncho, I guess. Otherwise, not walk when rain is expected, that is, about half the time!
I’ve spent the day sleeping and reviewing about 200 of the photos (half so far). Also went for a walk. Then spent time chatting to another pilgrim. He’s Dutch, speaks excellent English, is a diabetic and feels lousy half the time, and only manages to average 35km a day on flatish terrain. Gee, well I AM a year older - perhaps that’s the trouble.
This evening all the guests are eating out with the owners and some English and American locals. Should be good.
Tomorrow I leave at 10am by bus for Montpellier again. There I will take train to Toulouse, to Bayonne and possibly to St Jean Pied de Port, the stepping off place for the French Way through Spain. So Monday or Tuesday I will be setting off, God willing, on the pilgrimage proper. Don’t really feel prepared, or well enough. I’ve got a low-level virus, maybe. Fortunately the throat spray seems to be working again.
Most popular cars are French: Peugeot, Renault, Citroen in that order. Then come the foreign cars and they are few. (Can't think straight. I'm in a computer facility which is part of a phone call place. The guy "in charge" is using internet phone and talking and yelling all the &é"'"&é"'&èçà time. I've ticked him off a couple of times in my inimitable style but he just goes on, albeit with a slight diminution of volume for a time.)
That’s it for the day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


This morning, walked to Grivac or some such place. (Went past an 11th C chapel. William 1’s time!) First bus did not show. Second came a little late and look about 30 minutes to drive to Lodéve. I’d never heard of this place but it is as lovely as the rest. Huge cathedral built on 6th century foundations, creek, closely packed houses, grand public buildings, parks, old men playing boules. All the towns I’ve visited have trees in the squares that look suspiciously like plane trees but they call plantane. In winter they chop the branches way back and in spring the new growth sprouts vertically so it is possible to wander and sit under the shade without ducking and weaving. In the park the trees are arranged in rows with sandy gravel between to accommodate the boules arenas. I will stay here two nights. Tomorrow I will bus then taxi to a 12th walled village called La Couvertouraide. I’ve heard only good reports of it and hope it doesn’t rain. Grey granite in the sun will photograph well but in the rain … Then I think I’ll have to return to Montpellier (it’s not far) to catch the train to Bayonne. It might be trains, find out tomorrow.
Gotta go, times up.