Reykjavik, Iceland - June 29, 2016

Iceland and the Atlantic
Today, Christina and I embarked on our trip to Europe and the Camino de Santiago. We bought the tickets in March, but really didn't do any planning for the adventure until we arrived home Sunday from backpacking the Ozette Triangle on the Washington coast with friends. I like to place plans on simmer. 

On Monday, we picked up an Airbnb for two nights in Bayonne, France. Last night, we purchased rail tickets from Paris to Bayonne. After two nights in Bayonne, we plan to catch a morning train to St. Jean and begin the Camino. Following that, we'll live day-to-day; I find this lifestyle pleasing.

Packing Light for Five Weeks
Beautiful views were had flying over Hudson Bay. It's easy to choose purple as a favorite color when the sky is lit with a multitude of shades. The broken ice, miles wide, formed circular patterns that I was drawn to. Nature predictably signs her name.

Ode to Hendrix
Iceland Air provided the documentary "Heima" by the music group Sigur Ros. I thought it fitting to commit my attention to it. The film documents the band's concert tour they freely gave to the people of Iceland. I can highly recommend "Heima" as a piece of art.

"Not Edible"

Bayonne, France - June 30, 2016

Dropping into Paris
Although our trip through customs was seamless, we couldn't leave Iceland until after nine o'clock due to the Paris Airport not wanting us in the air until after our scheduled departure. There was no explanation. We ended up waiting on the runway for over an hour. I think my posterior started looking like a Boeing seat. No big deal.

Shuttle to Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2
We arrived in Paris and tackled finding our train to Bordeaux St. Jean. We caught a shuttle to CDG terminal two and followed the signs to the train station. Once there, we had time to relax until our train's platform number appeared on the departure screen. In no time, we were stepping on the southbound train and finding our seats.

Airport Station - Paris, France
We made our way to the very rear of the train, sat down and started a conversation with a younger couple sitting across from us. Martin was a computer science professor at a local university. He had recently taken a work-related trip to the University of Washington. He was interested in fly fishing and my commercial seining experience in Alaska. They were in the process of dropping off their cat at a parent's house for two months. Free at last.

French trains are phenomenal. They travel at speeds over two hundred miles per hour on smooth track. The United States is dramatically behind in this area of public transportation. I estimate it will take two hundred years to reach this point of efficiency in the States.

Flat Farmland
As a cyclist, the countryside outside of Paris looks appealing. It's almost completely flat farmland broken up by small established areas of well-maintained homes. In some of the fields, wind energy is being harvested by large turbines. I noticed solar panels on a number of homes. Impressive.

We arrived in Bordeaux St. Jean about fifteen minutes late. We had a connecting train to catch to Bayonne; the pressure was on. After hustling to get directions from a conductor, we RAN to the the second train on platform two just in time to board. With adrenalin starting to slow, we walked down the middle of several cars until we found ours. The second time through this will be easier. Deep breathing was in order.

I would not suggest purchasing food items on the trains in France. They are overpriced, and the wrappers are so loud, they let everyone in the car know that you got ripped off. Avoid at all costs.

Bayonne Station (Underground)
We arrived in Bayonne right on schedule. Finding our host was a snap with Apple Maps. My first major mistake of the trip occurred at the finish line. I pressed the wrong button in the trap to buzz our host Caroline. I went with the button to the right of her name when I should have gone left. Her neighbor on the fifth floor triggered the bolt to let us in. When we reached the fifth floor, he came out on the landing and started pointing in different directions with his finger, speaking many French words that I could only nod my head to. At eleven o'clock PM, I could understand his raw emotion. I had the feeling that this scenario had played out before.

As he disappeared into the darkness of his apartment with a sharp "Caio!", I could only speculate that his dreams would be troubled this weekday night - and many nights to come.

Pont Saint Esprit Bridge at Night

Bayonne, France (Day 2) - July 1, 2016

Waking Up and Looking Out
After two long flights and train rides, this morning was a good time to sleep in. We left Caroline's apartment before noon and explored Bayonne on foot. Points of interest included Cathedrale Saint Marie de Bayonne, Jardine Botanique and the water closet near the Pont Saint Esprit Bridge.

Getting up and looking out the apartment window, I immediately noticed an enormous cathedral a short distance from Caroline's apartment. Everything else in the immediate area was dwarfed by it.

"The Canaanite"
Entering the darkened building was jaw-dropping. Inside, I was drawn to "The Canaanite" stained-glass window - a masterwork. Back outside, on the entrance steps, people quietly chatted. The calmness of the cathedral seemed to blanket those in the immediate area.

Library Garden - Bayonne Cathedral (Background)
After wandering, Christina and I found the Jardine Botanique, a relaxed little garden in the middle of town. Bright red bridges accentuated the winding walk through many varieties of plants. I was particularly drawn to the proclamations of commitment on the established bamboo. Gardens are for lovers.

Bamboo Graffiti Love
We took a circuitous route through Bayonne, bought fruit then sat to eat by the Pont Saint Esprit Bridge. There, I used a French water closet for the first time. The small building looked futuristic, the rounded door opening slowly with the push of a button. Once inside, I was slightly surprised to find a self-cleaning, seatless toilet flanked by stainless steel bars. I touched a button and listened attentively to instructions given in French. If nothing else, this offered me time to contemplate. I moved forward in the most reasonable manner I could think of. Mission accomplished.

Difficult Water Closet
After dinner on the street, and an opportunity to people watch, the two of us headed back to the apartment. Before bed, we chatted with Caroline. I asked her about French people's impression of Americans. She said that Americans are heavy and believe "they are kings of the world."

We have a lot to work on.

Bayonne Backstreets

Roncesvalles, Spain - July 2, 2016

Arrival at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France
Tough day! We hiked over fifteen miles with 1,200 meters of elevation gain. I don't care who you are, it's difficult to begin a multi-week trek this way.

River View from Train
We woke at six thirty this morning and caught the seven forty train leaving Bayonne bound for St. Jean Pied de Port. With winding rivers and pastoral views, I couldn't pull my eyes from the scene.

Pilgrim's Office - Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France
Upon exiting the train at St. Jean, we muddled our way to the pilgrim's office. There we received explicit information about the day's route and our first credential stamp. These stamps are proof of travel and allow us to stay in peregrino albergues (pilgrim shelters) along the Camino. The room was alive with officials giving information and stamps to pilgrims of many nationalities. 

After leaving the office, finding and staying on the "Way" was simple; the path was well marked with iconic yellow arrows. I'm certain that they will begin to show up in my sleep.

Sheep in the Pyrenees 
The route began with the cobblestone streets of St. Jean and proceeded uphill to open grassland inhabited by cow, sheep, goat and horse. The direction we walked was UP. The fog was heavy in the Pyrenees, hiding views but keeping us pleasantly cool.

Orisson Albergue (I wish we had stopped for the night)
At about ten kilometers, we halted at an established refugio (refuge) for soup and a shared sandwich. I was tempted to suggest staying there, but knew our resting place lay in Roncesvalles. We crossed over into Spain and, later, dropped down the back side where the path changed to darkened Alder forests.

Warming up at Orisson
At over twenty-six kilometers, we came upon the mammoth albergue Colegiata, our final destination. After showing our credentials and forking over a small fee, we were given an assigned bed as well as dinner and breakfast tickets.

After unpacking and setting up our sleeping situations, we hit the showers (hot!) and proceeded to a communal dinner. Soup, bread, pasta, fish and fries were served. Wine was offered as well as an after dinner yoghurt (10 Euros). The most enjoyable part was sitting around the table and chatting with fellow pilgrims. After a small amount of wine, everyone was convinced we had come through purgatory. It's easy to bond with people having a shared experience.

I can now clearly see the pattern of life offered by the Camino. In a few short days, this will all feel routine. Onward!

Strangers on a Train

Zubiri, Spain - July 3, 2016

Sleeping in Roncesvalles, Spain
The common sleeping rooms on the Camino are a phenomenon worth exploring. I appreciate the fact that they are a catalyst for breaking down barriers between people. We walk together, we eat together, we sleep together. The Camino perpetuates equality.

Zubiri Municipal Albergue - Inside
Stepping down off my soapbox, there are problems with this night-time living situation. As one would expect, the chorus of snores begin shortly after the lights go off at exactly ten o'clock. It seems unfair that the snoring sleeper is able to realize the benefit of good rest while other pilgrims patiently endure this hardship. Will Karma ever catch up with the loud individual? Are you responsible for something that you cannot help, or even know about? How long can the body sustain punishing mileage in a sleep-deprived state? These are the deep questions that the Camino asks. I hope to find an answer.

One Step at a Time
We walked over twenty kilometers today (13+ miles). Some up, some down. Once again, it was beautiful. As we passed through the outskirts of Espinal, a Spanish man waited by the side of the road kissing women as they hiked by. I noticed the glimmer in his eye.

After crossing the stone bridge to our ending point, Zubiri, we secured beds in the albergue Antigua Escuela (8 Euro). The facility was located next to the public school. They had a single washer and dryer as well as hot showers. What a deal!

Just after three o'clock, we walked back into town to a local restaurant for lasagna (delicious) and beer. With plenty of time left in the afternoon, Christina suggested we head down to the river.

The Soak
Stripping our shoes and socks at the edge of the rio Arga, we gingerly waded to the shallow center to sit on stones and cool our feet. I must admit, it was difficult to tear myself away from this tranquil position. Water works wonders on the body.

The rest of the afternoon was spent drifting in and out of sleep on the shaded riverbank, using packs as pillows. Waders came and went. A pair of horses showed up to munch some of the longer grasses by the riverside. We are officially on vacation.

Zubiri Municipal Albergue - Outside
Rousing ourselves, we headed back to the albergue to wash bodies and clothes. I climbed up in my bunk, did a little writing and dropped off to sleep before 9:30 PM. Tomorrow Pamplona...

Drying Out

Pamplona, Spain - July 4, 2016

Wild Red
The Spanish consumption of caffeine is of interest to me. People don't walk about carrying mammoth-sized, sugar-infused, disposable cups of coffee in their hands. They take time to sit with friends around a common table and slowly sip small shots of espresso. The otherwise routine act of drinking coffee reflects an understanding of the importance of savoring the moment.

Pony Stop
We started the morning with a pilgrim special at a local restaurant in  Zubiri, then picked up the Camino and took it one step at a time. Again, we covered over twenty kilometers. It was a day to slow down and experiment with alternate routes.

Abbey of Eskirotz
Our first stop was the Abbey of Eskirotz, a 13th century church with a history that is currently being pieced together. The owner, Neil, (yes, he owns the place - long story) was inside giving a fascinating lecture on the what he and others have learned about the site.

Originally, the building may have been constructed to guard a bridge that was, in the past, located adjacent to it. I was most interested in the symbolism in the building. Pagan shells, different from that of the Camino, were painted on the original alter. Twenty-four stars were cut into the doorway, which, in ancient times, had been painted blue and red. The entire outside of the building was once white. In the Middle Ages, this structure would have held particular significance.

Excavated Altar 
The owner is currently in the process of discovering what other secrets the church holds. Soon, the burial ground located under the altar will be unearthed. Neil hopes that artifacts will be found amongst the bones that will add pieces to the puzzle of the place. He has set up a Facebook page at:

I'll take a look at this after the trip. Curiosity is stoked by travel.

Decision to Dip
Before leaving, we lingered and spoke with Neil personally after his lecture. He suggested we take two alternate routes on the Camino, to see the Church of Saint Stephen and the flat, shaded river walk into Pamplona. We took his advice.

Climbing a short, steep hill off the main route in Zabaldika, we came upon the Church of Saint Stephen. Honestly, the only real connection to this patron Saint that I had was the beloved Grateful Dead tune. The most interesting statue in the church depicted Saint Joseph with the Child. This seemed uncommon to me. Typically, the Child is held by Mary. Progressive.

Progressive Pose

Bell Tower (Stone Staircase)
Our visit was punctuated with a climb up the tower and the opportunity to ring what is believed to be the oldest bell on the Camino. That pitch is still reverberating through me.
On the final stretch to Pamplona, we deviated from the main route to walk the shaded rio Arga into the city. Another pilgrim followed us. I made her visibly nervous after crossing the wrong bridge. She smiled with relief when, some time later, we rejoined the main Camino route. Faith takes many forms here.
Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real
We arrived in Pamplona at about 3:30 PM and obtained a bed at the albergue municipal "Jesus y Maria" (8 euros). We hit the showers, unpacked then spent the evening exploring the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real and people watching in the main square over dinner, a satisfying day.

Walking Pamplona, Spain
Main Square - Pamplona, Spain
Jesus y Maria - Municipal Albergue - Pamplona, Spain

Uterga, Spain - July 5, 2016

Trail and Wheat
Today we slowed the pace a bit and walked a touch over 17 kilometers (10.5 miles), enjoying wide open views from the Camino. Leaving Pamplona after pastries in the early hours of the morning, we wound our way through the city. The government has eased the way of the pilgrim by cementing embossed stainless steel markers into the sidewalk.

Shortly after leaving the Pamplona, we entered into a natural pathway. Fields of wheat stretched out like a sun bleached carpet in all directions. It's harvest time in Spain.

Green and Yellow
Climbing several hundred meters above it all, we encountered the Alto del Perdon (Mount of Forgiveness). Windmills sentineled the ridge in long procession. A cast iron sculpture of medieval pilgrims stood at the top; on it was inscribed "Where the way of the wind crosses the way of the stars." We rested for awhile with other hikers.

Alto del Perdon
I'm grounded by representations of those who have walked this path before. I'm getting to know those who walk now. Those who walk this way in a thousand years, at this moment, I know them.

Dropping down off the peak, we descended into Uterga. Off to the right of the road, we noticed shade trees and green grass. After choosing a spot, apples were enjoyed. I practiced yoga. The town was growing on us.

Stopping at Camino del Pedon, we ordered from the pilgrim menu. It was Christina's day to choose our albergue. We stayed our first night in one of their private rooms.

After naps, we joined several other hikers for the three course pilgrim meal (local wine included), a celebratory experience.