Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Day One - Lourdes to Asson:
It rained for two days before we got to Lourdes and was raining on the day we left. Everything was very muddy but we thought we might still be able to walk the 'chemin' paths. On leaving the sanctuary we followed a green line drawn by the woman at the INFO office.
''Just walk out the gate at the far end of the sanctuary' she said, ' turn left and straight on from there follow the conches. We exited the sanctuary, turned left and walked straight up a steep hill for over 4km before coming to the picturesque twin villages of Omex and Segus. We asked a man if this was the way to Asson. "Oui, oui" he said, pointing his hand directly ahead. It didn't look right so we dcided to ask woman in a La Poste van if this was the way to Asson.
'Oh non, non! You must go back to the Camping and turn left there,' she said. Back we went 4km downhill to the Camping de la Foret. After 8 kms on the wrong road we had a coffee and hot chocolate and asked the woman in the cafe for directions.
"It will be very muddy' she said, 'better you go on the road.''
So, we ignored the signs, crossed the river and walked all the way to Asson on the D937. We met pilgrims who had walked on the paths and they confirmed that they were muddy with large pools of water and very slippery mud especially on the steep ascents and descents.
The entrance into Asson is up a short hill. The gite is down a little side road to the right. When we arrived some men were laying out a tent across the entrance to the gite.
"I emailed about staying here" I said "we are the three pilgrims from South Africa". A young man went into the house on the left and a woman came out. She looked confused and upset and spoke rapidly to the young man who told us that they had not received the email and that two other pilgrims, a man and a woman, had phoned about staying in the gite. It only slept 4 people so would we be prepared to sleep on stretchers in the house? We had a look in the room but there would be no access to toilets and there were people working in the room we would have to stay in. I asked if we could stay in the gite, downstairs in the foyer. Smiles all round! No problem. The stretchers were brought in, we were led upstairs to look at the gite where we could use the showers and toilet. The charge for staying in the gite is 10 euro and we were charged the same for slepping on the stretchers! I opted for a mattress on the floor instead and was jolly pleased I did because the girls nearly froze to death with the cold coming straight through the canvas strecther from the tiled floors.
Day two: Asson to Arudy
We walked on the paths all the way to Arudy - stopping for a picnic lunch of fruit and cheese at St. Colone. We arrived in Arudy to find the streets full of fun-fair merry-go-rounds and stalls. I had emailed and received a confirmation email from Pierre, the priest, that we could stay at the Presbyterre. I had given Sebastien and Marie the phone number and they called ahead to book beds as well. When we arrived in Arudy Marie found the house where we could get the key for the Accueil Paroissial au Presbyterre - home of the Parish Rectory and Father Pierre Sallenave - a wonderful priest who Sebastian later described as his kind of priest - one who lives with the people. This pilgrim refuge is donativo but when asked, he said that 5€ is the norm for the bed and also for the use of the kitchen and foods. We decided to give him 15€ each as well as a little yellow beaded arrow. Marie called the albergue in Oloron and booked beds for tomorrow night so we will be together for one more day. From Oloron they go west to St Jean Pied de Port and we will turn south to Somport.
Day Three: From Arudy to Oloron
We walked through farms, fields, woods and small village roads. We stayed at the Relais du Bastet, a nice new albergue (not yet in the guide books) with beds instead of bunks. We were in a 4 bed room and Sebastien and Marie in a 2 bed room.
Day Four: from Oloron to Sarance
We walked on the road for about 3km and then took the 'chemin' path through a very wet, muddy, slippery forest. In places it was almost unegotiable and we did a 'slippy-sloshy-slide' for about 4km. Parts of the paths were then on roads but once again we were led off road and the mud was so thick it stuck to our boots until we felt as though we were on skates! When we did finally come out onto the road we dithered about a bit trying to decide whether to continue on the path or stick to the road. ¨The rest of the way can´t be as wet as the first part´we said, but it was! Val sent an SMS to Ann and her friends warning them about the mud and they thanked us later for the warning as none of them was ready for a slippery sludge walk to Sarrance. The last few kms were a combination of small roads and paths, one section in a stream bed which at least cleaned most of the mud off the soles of our boots. The old St Jacques study centre and monastery, Les Fonatines deÉscot, is about 1.5km before Sarrance and you have to take the road option to reach it. I had booked two rooms on the internet and Annie and her friends had phoned ahead to book rooms as well. 13 euro each and about 8 euro for a delicious dinner.
Day Five: Sarrance to Borce
Marion's post for this section: We walked alongside the valley of IÁrrec d´Isson high above the Gave dÁspe which flows in a deep gorge. The path was very rocky and lots of mud, almost clay earth which sucked onto our boots. Most of the day was on the mountain side. We had a mountain on our left our path then the river, then the road and then another mountain on the right. Lots of green trees and sometimes a garden of flowers. Sometimes the river was right next to us and sometimes deep down below. At times the path was very rocky, we crossed over a bridge a couple ot times to the other side. We also saw a lot of Royal eagles, such beautiful birds. Although our path went up and down we were actually climbing the whole day. At times you could see the mountains on the other side with snow on top of them. It was such a tremendous day.
My post: We covered the first 5km in 2hours, up one slippery slope and then down equally slippery slopes, sometimes almost next to the raging river but at other times high above. We finally came out of the river onto a small road and climbed up to Borce, a charming, spotlessly clean village with a St James refuge on the left as you enter the village (that was full when we stopped) and finally to the Communal Gite in the centre of the village. We had an 8 bed room to ourselves and managed to do most of our washing and buy soup and vegetables, bread and wine for dinner which we ate in the Gite diningroom.
Day Six: Borce (630m) to Somport (1600m) and on to Canfranc Estacion (1200m)
The CSJ guide describes the road route as being more scenic than the forest path so up the road we went - and up, and up, and up. For the first four hours we couldn´t see higher than the tops of the trees due to the heavy mist but when the sun did break through we caught glimpses of snow capped moutains and craggy peaks. Whereas I was feeling a bit flat and wooden yesterday on those rocky, riverine paths, it was Marion´s turn to feel like a wooden doll today. We stopped more frequently, not only because of the climbing but because the sun finally came out and was burning down on us. We climbed from 636m to 1600m at the pass. What a welcome sight and a good stop at the cafetaria for a drink and a rest. It is 7.5km down to Canfranc Estacion and once again we opted for the road rather than the steep path down to 1200m.
On the road a fellow in a 4X4 stopped us and gave us a card for the La Tuca Casa Rural in Canfranc Est. I had emailed Peppito Grillo to book beds but when we got there we rang the bell a few times and nobody came so we found the La Tuca Casa Rurul and booked in there. A charming house with very comfortable rooms at 20€ person bed incl breakfast.

Day Seven - Canfranc Estacion to Jaca
Today rocked! We rocked! The paths were rocks! We rocked and rolled on narrow rocky paths at the base of scree slopes on large gravel stones, crossing shored up landslides and scree beds. We kept climbing up and then going down to cross the road and walk on the other side. Then back again we go, down to the road and climb up the opposite hill. At one stage we had to duck to walk under the overpass of the main road above us, circle around the concrete supports and climb up the other side. On one long winding rocky path we heard cowbells and kept trying to look through the hedges to see them. And then, around the corner came a shepherd and his enormous flock of sheep and goats, many of the larger animals with cowbells around their necks. We stood aside to let them pass (it was a bum to bum traffic jam anyway!) and it seemed as though the flock was never ending. Another shepherd and his dog brought up the rear and he said that there were over 300 animals in the flock. After exiting the countryside we entered Castillo de Jaca on a very steep village road down to the main village and highway below. Most fortified towns were built on high ground and this one was no exception. Going down, down, down we marvelled at the locals who have to walk up and down this winding, steeply graded road every day.
There is a steep climb up to the outskirts of Jaca and then a fairly long walk into the town and to the albergue following yellow arrows and gold shells in the pavement. The albergue is very modern with cubicles and beds instead of bunks. The showers are good and the kitchen well equipped.

Day Eight: Jaca to Santa Cicila
We have three options today. (A fourth option is to walk to San Juan de la Pena and back down again but we have discarded that option as San Juan is a detour and not really on the camino path). So, these are the options:
(1) Get a bus at 8h10 to St Cilia and walk up to San Juan de la Pena and back down again.
(2) Get a taxi to San Juan and ask him to wait for one hour then get a lift down to St Cilia - which means an 8km walk to Arres, our next intended stopover.
(3) Get the taxi to San Juan and walk the 7.5km back to Santa Cruz and then to St Cilia.
"I don´t mind to walk" says Val.
"I don´t mind walking" says Marion. So, I ask the driver to take us to San Juan and we will walk back. It costs us 25€ - 35€ if he had waited. We pay 3€ (pilgrim price) to see the monastery and leave our packs behind the ticket booth. After visiting this stunning place we collect our sticks and packs.
"It is not a dificult path" says the young lady in the ticket booth. "Only 7.5km".
It IS a difficult path! It is rocky, narrow, VERY, Very steep and although we spent the first km going up, the rest is all down, down, down - impossible ledge paths with no hope of recovery if you wobble or stumble. At one stage it looked as though the path had disappeared into an abyss but there it was when we peered over the edge, snaking its way sideways down only to disappear again around another gully. I was exhausted at the bottom and even after stopping at Santa Cruz for a cold drink, I started to feel light headed and wobbly as we walked to Santa Cilia. "I think I need to lie down" I told M and Val at one stage. We found a tiny patch of shade and I lay down with my legs up and my head on my backpack, I had goosebumps even though it was 35oC in the shade. I think I had a touch of sunstroke. When we got to Santa Cilia I headed straight for the albergue. After a shower, something to eat and a drink I felt as though I could have gone on another 5km or 8km but by then our washing was in the machine and we were very comfortable in the albergue. (Wonderful albergue with a very kind hospitalera).

Day Nine: To Artieda
Marion's post: Most of our walking was through farm land lots of golden wheat fields with a scattering of wild poppies every now and again. We walked on a path of sand and stone lots of wild flowers alongside us. It was quite flat and again very hot with very little shade. We stopped at a little village called Martas, unfortunately no shops at all, so no coffee. Luckily we saw three elderly men sitting on a bench and the one showed us where we could get some cold water to fill our bottles. We then walked through the Lunar valley, it was quite weird, hills that are porous, soft rock, grey coloured and it looked like they had a top layer of very fine looking gravel. The village that we were going to stop at Artieda was on a top of a hill, it was quite a climb. At the bottom of the hill were about a dozen Royal Eagles flying around and whilst I was walking up I could not help but wonder if they were watching to see if I would make it to the top and if I did not would I be good food for them. I was exhausted by the time I had reached the top, at first could not undrstand why I found the day so tiring but then realized how I had perspired in the heat and had not had enough carbs and salt, also had not had enough to drink. Albergue/Hostal.

Day Ten: Artieda to Sanguesa
We decided last night to ask the owner of the albergue give us a lift 8km down the trail to Ruesta - where we should have been last night. You´ll remember that we lost 8 kms by walking down from San Juan de la Pena to Santa Cruz (which is not on the actual camino) and then to Santa Cilia. Ruesta was abandoned due to the planning of Yesa but now a few of the derelict buildings are occupied and there is a very modern albergue in amongst the ruins -and nothing else that we could see. The path today was very easy - mostly along gravel or dirt. The first 7km went straight uphill all the way to the wide ´meseta´at the top. It was then a long, winding road through scrub land, similar to the moors in England with scrubby vegetation and very few trees. We stopped at the only village between Ruesta and Sanguesa - Undues de Leida - for a coffee and coke. From there the path dropped quite sharply and soon we were in the valley walking between wheat and barley fields. A few kms from Sanguesa we passed a large stone marker that marked our entrance into Navarre. The terrain softened, with no more stark, stony hills and weird gravel formations. As we entered Sanguesa we saw our first European stork and followed his flight as he-she swooped onto a next, one of many, on top of the church. We were led to a pilgrim albergue by a wizzened little man but when we climbed the stairs to the dormitory we found it fully occupied by pale faced old men! We think that it is a group that is starting from here as we have not seen them before and none of them had sunburn! We, on the other hand, look positively burnished with brown legs and arms and sunburned noses!
We find a room at the Hostal across the river - 82 euro for s 3 bed room. We are too tired and Val's feet are too sore to walk any further so we take it. There is a pilgrims' dorm at the Camping site that charges 9 euro for a bed. Sanguesa is a tired looking town. The main street - Calle Mayor - is also dusty and tired looking.

Day Eleven - Sanguesa to Izco
We left at sunrise along straight, wide gravel paths with our shadows strecthed out before us. It is a good way to warm up. Then it was upill to Rocaforte to the Alto de Albar and Alto de Olaz with a stunning view over a wide valley that looks as though a gargantum glacier gouged out this valley millenia ago. From there the path narrowed to a single clay track, becoming a narrow clay and rock animal track which must be lethal when wet. Having climbed to the Altos it was time to go down again along a very steeply downward trail through the woods. The last 6km were an uphill climb to Izco. Albergue in the Sociedad Complex.

Day Twelve - Izco to Tiebas
We weren´t planning on staying at Tiebas. I had copied the diary of a pilgrim who walked the route last year and she said that the albergue in Tiebas was dirty and uncared for. However, we were on track for a stay at Eunate so decided to risk Tiebas.
Sometimes the camino lulls you into a sense of false camino bliss. ¨I love these kind of paths" I said to M and Val as we walked along wide gravel paths through fields and farms. Having just said that, the path became a forest path, then a double track on stones and clay, then it disintergrated into a single rocky path no wider than one boot. We started climbing up the side of the mountain and down the other, through a stony gulley, then up and down rocky, stony gullies all the way from Monreal to Tiebas. It looked the Sierra Nevada with steep, pitted sheep tracks hugging the side of the mountain, taking you halfway up the hill and dropping you down, down down on the other side.
There is a village on a hill across the valley and we keep thinking that it might be our refuge for the night but we keep skirting it, hiding from it, then it appears again. Eventually we see Tiebas - also on a hill but on our side of the valley. As we approached Tiebas we could see the ruined castle of Teobaldo 1 of Navarra. If we´d had more energy we might have explored it but we were too hot, too dehydrated, too weary to do more than follow the flechas amrailla to the hostel which was way over at the other end of the village. Once again, this room forms part of the Community Centre and besides our small room with just 4 bunk beds, it also has a large room with matresses on the floor for groups. There is no hospitalero, just a caretaker who lets us in. I find a broom and a mop and sweep the floors in the entrance, dorm and bathroom. I find flowers outside and steal a few to put in a plastic cup on the table. The place looks celan, homely and inviting!

Day 13: Tiebas to Eunate
What we will remember of the paths to Eunate is mud, mud, and more mud. There are few places to stop and even those mentioned in the CSJ guide are merely hamlets with no facilities other than an occasional fountain. We stop at Eneriz for a breakfast of nectarine, cheese and hot chocolate - delicious. We are in Navarre and pass through more and more vineyards. Marion and I recall walking to Eunate from Pamplona along a treelined road. This time we approach through a woods along a very muddy track that hugs a hedge on one side. Finally we come upon the little octangonal church in the field. The albergue opens at 4pm. Wonderful place to stay - wonderful meal.

Day 14 - Eunate to Pamplona
By the time we are on the path to Muruzabal the wind has strengthened and it is starting to rain. We take out our ALTUS raincoats for the first time since France. We are walking the ´wrong´way - that is, everyone else is walking from east to west and we are walking to Pamplona. We pass through Uterga and many pilgrims stop to ask us why we are going in the opposite direction. Many of them have pale complexions, showing that they have just started walking (we look like walnuts).
By the time we reach the rocky path up to the Alto del Perdon the wind is howling and we are being buffeted so strongly that even our sticks are swaying in the wind. The wind nearly blows us off the mountain. The rain is lashing down. It is a gruelling climb up the river boulder strewn path to the top of the Alto. We take photos of the metal sculptures and then start our descent. It is muddy and narrow and we jostle on the path with pilgrims coming up. The sun comes out and we walk uphill to Cizur Menor. From the outskirts of Pamplona we follow the large camino signs in the cyclist´s lane all the way to the Plaza del Castillo. We find our hotel and check in. This is the end of the camino for Val and the end of the Aragones for us three.


  1. Anonymous3:12 pm

    Hello Sylvia, Marion and Val
    Hope feet are holding out! - don't need froted feet I thihnk. Hope it dries up a little. Enjoying your comments onteh site Sylvia.

  2. Christine10:45 pm

    Fight the good fight and the mud will cease once you reach the peaks and head down to Candanchu/Canfranc. Hope someone offers you all churros and chocolate. Google earth follows your blogs. Great. Christine

  3. It is just wonderful to follow you this way, Sil. You must be close to Pamplona right now.
    Are you going through Eunate?