Hola from Uterga, Spain! It’s approximately 1:00 a.m. as I sit here in the reading area of a very nice albergue in this tiny, old and exceptionally clean Spanish town. It is so hot in the dorm and the snoring is so loud that I couldn’t sleep. So, what better way to spend my sleepless time than to update everyone back home!

I left Viscarret with a full and satisfied belly yesterday morning after enjoying a hearty breakfast of cereal, toast, juice, and coffee with milk or, in Spanish, a café con leche. The previous night I was lucky enough to score a homemade dinner of tomato-basil soup with baguette and a curried chicken-vegetable stir fry. To top it off, the hospitalero brought me a full litre of red wine, which I had all to myself and no, I didn’t drink the whole thing; however, I did leave the table with a full glass so I could sip some vino while watching the cows graze on the dusky landscape from my bedroom balcony.

As I walked out of Viscarret, I admired the lovely Spanish countryside with its pastures of grazing horses and trails of lush greenery permeated with golden sunlight.

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I popped in my ear buds and selected the soundtrack Dances with Wolves from my iPod. It was a perfect morning.

After reaching the outskirts of Zubiri, a more industrial type of town, I was rewarded with the beautiful little village of Larrasoaña.

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I noticed a couple who I had seen before on the trail. They were French and, seemingly, newlyweds. The first time I had encountered them, the man called out to me, pointed to the buff on my head, and asked in English if I had found it somewhere. He said his wife had lost hers. I told him no, that this one was mine, although I wonder if he really believed me.

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I had bought my buff in Canada and was quite thankful for it after realizing all my ponytail holders were tucked away inside the make-up bag I mailed off to Logroño. This time the couple was sitting at a table outside a bar enjoying the pilgrim’s lunch.

Instead of stopping at the bar for lunch, I found a tiny supermarket, which really looked more like someone’s house.

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I picked up some lunch items: a baguette with butter and jam, an apple, an orange, a cup of yogurt and a litre of fresh water which I poured into the water bladder of my backpack. This seems to be the cheapest way to eat. The pilgrim’s meal, at nine euro a shot, would add up quickly.

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Later on I met Jacomo from Alba, Italy – a fifty year-old fireman, architect and Ironman triathlete.

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He passed me while I was taking a water break and then turned to ask if everything was okay. We began walking together and I learned some things about his life. The little town he is from is best known for the chocolate spread called Nutella – my son’s favourite I told him. He made me laugh when he said the town even smells like it. He also has a cat named Red, a dog named Lola, a mouse named Skippy and three turtles whose names I can’t remember. He won’t be able to walk the whole Camino, but he will go as far as he can in two weeks. He asked me if I knew French since English was his third language. Unfortunately, I don’t and I am beginning to regret that I didn’t pursue languages in school.

I walked 30 kilometres – not something I had planned to do. I intended to stop earlier at an albergue that also served as a convent, but I was enjoying Jacomo’s company and chose to continue walking with him instead.

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The old decrepit buildings along the way were fascinating to me since the architecture in Canada is so new in comparison.

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We checked in at the albergue in Trinadad de Arre, situated on the opposite side of a stone bridge inside a very old church built in the year 1150.

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The albergue had a pleasant atmosphere, a big courtyard and the hospitalero was a sweet old man eager to share his knowledge about the place.

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He gave us a tour and shared a little bit of history.

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He said that pilgrims have taken refuge there for 800 years and have experienced much spirituality although a great deal of suffering as well.

The keeper had informed us of a pilgrim’s service that was to be held in the church that evening, but I got sidetracked after seeing Jesse from Australia in the courtyard and didn’t go. She was the one who slept in the lower bunk across from me in Roncesvalles. I ended up meeting the rest of her family: Trish, Betsy and Dylan from Surrey, British Columbia of all places – so close to home.

IMG_0502Jesse is in the back with the brown hair

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A few of us walked into town for supper. The streets were busy with people socializing and children playing. Some of the children had these interesting toys – a bull head mounted on a wheel with handlebars. It seemed to be a Spanish-themed toy based on The Running of the Bulls.

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The group of us dined at a small restaurant where I sat with Jesse’s family. Jacomo and the others had stopped to get some money from a bank machine and when they finally arrived at the restaurant they snagged a separate table.

There was a new pilgrim with them who I hadn’t yet met. Later, after we all returned to the courtyard and sat around talking with a couple bottles of wine, I found out his name is Andrew from Germany.

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Eventually, the hospitalero hinted that it was time for this noisy bunch to quieten down and go to bed.

This morning I headed out alone at approximately 8:30 a.m. towards Pamplona, a large and busy city where The Running of the Bulls takes place in the summertime.

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As I walked towards the gateway to Pamplona a middle-aged Spanish man took notice of the brace I was wearing on my right knee. He used hand motions to communicate he was a chiropractor and that if I lay down on the grass he would adjust my knee for me. Yikes! As nice as that was of him, there was no way I could take a chance on that. What if it went sideways and made my knee worse? I need to make it to Santiago and I can’t take any risks. And besides, my knee really isn’t bothering me right now. I had a twinge in it a few weeks ago and decided to wear the brace only as a precaution.

While I was in Pamplona, I stopped at an outdoor store to look for a light scarf to wear over my head and shoulders. It has been so hot, 32° the last two days! They didn’t have any scarves, but I had an enjoyable conversation with Matt, the store keeper. He was very interested in Canada so I spent quite a bit of time chatting with him. His English was excellent. He gave me some Camino information, including some maps, and I bought a Camino scallop shell to tie onto my pack. While I was there, Andrew from Germany popped in looking for shoes. We left the store at the same time and ended up walking the remainder of the day together.

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Andrew’s English is also excellent. We had such a great time talking and joking along the way that we walked right through the last town we could have stopped in for lunch.

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The next opportunity was a long way off according to the guidebook. We were so hungry and hot that our conversation revolved around how satisfying it would be to raid a juicy vegetable garden, discover an ice cream stand or dive into a cold swimming pool.

There wasn’t much shade along this stretch, but we finally found a lone tree to sit under where we pooled the food resources we did have. I could offer a stale piece of one-day-old baguette and half a chocolate-mint Cliff bar and Andrew could pitch in some fruit – an apple, peach and plum. He could definitely offer up the best items. We laughed and called it a Camino moment.

Our prayers were answered in the village of Zariquiegui where we were blessed with a store that sold ice cream. That ice cream went down so good! We sat in the shade against a stone wall in the narrow street where I could admire a few of the many flowered windows you see in these Spanish villages.

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Andrew tried to teach me some German words as we continued on our way, although I can’t remember most of them.

We finally made it to the pilgrim’s monument, a series of tall metal figurines depicting pilgrims walking the way with their horses and donkeys.

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It was located at the top of a hill among some gigantic windmills or “windmolen” as Andrew would say in German.

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We took some pictures and then made our way down the other side towards the town I am staying in now, Uterga.

Arianna is here! I saw her relaxing on the patio with a cold beer. She is one of the two people I shared the taxi with from Biarritz. She said this was a really nice albergue, so even though our goal was to reach Puenta la Reina which was seven kilometres further, Andrew and I decided a shower, the patio and an ice cold beer sounded like a much better idea. 21 kilometres was still a good haul for one day.

IMG_0558Andrew (front left), Arianna (back right), Monique (next to her)

I also met some new people. One of the most memorable was Monique from, I think, Ontario. She showed us her Pharmacy of meds and other first aid items from her backpack and Andrew received some good advice for the blisters on his feet, the reason he was looking for shoes in Pamplona.

So far my feet have been golden! My boots, La Sportiva stiff-soled trekking boots, were recommended to me by an orthopedic doctor who specializes in feet. Unfortunately, I’ve been cursed with bunions, but on this journey they haven’t bothered me at all. My body does ache though. It’s tough to make the pack comfortable enough so I keep adjusting the straps so that sometimes my hips carry more of the weight and sometimes my shoulders. I still need to say goodbye to a few more kilos. The hospitalera in St. Jean Pied de Port was right.

After dinner, Andrew and I explored more of the little village and found another very old stone church with a bell that would toll every half hour. There was an open grassy area mid-village which would have been a perfect place to sleep under the stars in our sleeping bags. We didn’t and I wish we had. I might be sleeping better outside.

We sat for a while on a bench outside the albergue. Four Spanish women kept passing us every ten minutes. They were out at 10:00 p.m. for their walk around the village block – too hot to do it during the day, I guess. I suppose people must have a siesta mid-day because it seems like the village streets are quieter then. At night is when people seem to come out to socialize and exercise.

Well, I suppose I should try and get some more sleep. I think I am going to leave earlier tomorrow and get most of my walk done before the mid-day heat.