I woke up on my third morning of the Camino at 6am thinking what the f*&% am I doing?! This is my life now! Cold showers, lights off at 10pm, lights on at 6am, sleeping in rooms of up to 100 people, old men snoring, old women snoring even worse and to top it off walking 20-30km per day carrying a 10kg backpack! How this sounded like a good idea when I was driving everywhere and living in such a beautiful house in New Zealand, I have no idea.
But it’s not all that bad really. They say the first day is the most difficult and they’re not kidding. 26km sounds ok, it’s just a half marathon with a 5km warm down and you have all day to do it. Adding the fact that our packs were too heavy (12kgs with food and water when they should have been no more than 10kgs), the fact that you have to cross the Pyrenees from France into Spain and it sounds a bit more difficult. We climbed 1000m over the first 21km and then descended about 500m over the last 5km. It took us 9 hours and I can honestly say it was the most physically difficult day in my entire life. But it was so worth it, the views were spectacular, I’ve never walked from one country to another before and it meant we’d walked 26km, we only had 751km until we would be finished the camino.
When we woke up on the second day we were absolutely exhausted and all of our muscles were reminding us what we’d done the day before. We didn’t realise it, but a lot of people start the Camino in Roncesvalles (where we had walked to on our first day), so we were very disheartened when everyone seemed to be racing off ahead of us full of energy. It was a relief when we got to the albergue and realised they weren’t superhuman and we were doing ok after all.
After such a bad start to the third day, it all turned out really well. We only walked 16km to Pamplona (yes, that’s the city where they have the running of the bulls, not it was not on when we were there), and stayed in one of the nicest albergues on the Camino. Over 100 people were put in different rooms in a modified cathedral, and they had warm showers! We even managed to find an amazing vegetarian restaurant nearby (and they didn’t even think salami was vegetarian this time). As we’d decided before we even started the Camino that our packs were too heavy we posted a very expensive couple of kilos back to England, and what a difference that made for us walking. However, we thought we were bad carrying up to 12kgs until we met an American girl who was carrying about 18kgs! Yes, she thought it was essential to carry her laptop in her backpack across Spain, not to mention a whole lot of other completely unnecessary items.
We left Pamplona the next day, with smiles on our faces thanks to our lighter packs. The sky had cleared and we could finally see jet-streams again. As we had very little contact with the real world, that was our only way of knowing that the carnage created by the Icelandic volcano was coming to an end.
We left Pamplona well stocked, knowing we were headed off into small towns and villages for a couple of days. It was nice to get out of the big city where you have to walk on main roads and back onto little paths away from traffic. When we did pass through villages, some were so small they only had one road and 10-20 houses. It seemed that many of them survived only because the Camino passed through them and they could make a bit of money off the tourist dollar.
Our sixth day got off to a great start… first stop (after coffee of course), not a water fountain, but a fountain of wine! A local vineyard had set up this fountain to ‘give health’ to people walking the Camino. Of course we tried a sip or two, but as it was 8am and we were about 2km into a 25km walk we decided not to empty our waterbottes and refill them with wine. Luckily we didn’t, because we ended up attempting to run the last 5 or 6km thanks to a light shower turning into very heavy rain.
By the end of the 6th day we’d walked over mountains with snow on them, we’d run through fields in pouring rain, we’d hiked up hills in 30 degree heat and we’d ambled through sleepy villages. But we hadn’t gotten used to the last 3km being the hardest part of the day. Whether you’re walking 16km or 26km, it’s when you think you must be almost there that your body seems to give up and every step is more difficult than the last. Your pack feels twice as heavy as it was when you started and any pain feels excruciating. This last hour would usually be around 3pm, when the Spanish sun reaches its hottest point of the day.
The end of our first week walking saw us arriving in Logroño, the capital of the world-famous wine region , La Rioja. Need I say more?