Zubiri to Pamplona

DAY 4: FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2017


This was a very long day. Beautiful hiking trails and we wandered to an Abbey church and monastery from the 1300s that was being restored by a man from South Africa. He bought it from the bishop about 2-3 years ago and now lives there. He has excavated a lot of history and relics.

Remnants of an altar in the Abbey church.

The Abbey had some lovely gardens. I don’t know what type of cabbage or lettuce this is but I was intrigued by the alternating colors.

Marina from Southern England

We stopped for lunch at a delightful little pub with outdoor tables next to a stream that we had been following. Met up with a group of Irish people and our friend Marina from Southern England. It’s a party! Everyone took off their boots and packs and had a good long rest. Eventually we got moving again and hiked together for awhile.

In the middle is Ann from Derry, Northern Ireland with Marina standing behind her.

Appaloosa horses by the trail. There are a lot of horses everywhere. Many are unattended and not fenced in. They just wander.

They stopped before Pamplona and we kept going. We had a hotel reservation in Pamplona for the next two nights. We were really excited when we saw the city in the distance. Little did we know it was many miles away to reach our hotel. We walked along a river for a long way. Lots of beautiful parks and families out strolling. We were still in the suburbs. The locals would see us looking lost and would start directing us to the Camino trail. So helpful!

The Magdalena bridge leads to the city walls of Pamplona.

About 8pm we entered the city up a long stone ramp and through a medieval gate. It felt like we were entering a castle. We worked our way through the small cobblestone streets.

Entering the medieval gate to Pamplona.

There were lots of people coming out for the evening and the bars and restaurants were full.

Friday evening in the old part of Pamplona.

We found the city center which was a little more modern but didn’t know how to get to our hotel. We must have looked worn and pathetic by that point because people kept coming up to help us find out way.  My feet were killing me and I could hardly move.

The locals were very helpful and walked us to our hotel. By the end of the day my Fitbit was reading 49,937 steps. We did about 20 miles.

Roncevalle to Zubiri

Day 3: WEDNESDAY, APRIL 20, 2017


Loved the Albuergue at Roncevalle monastery. The lights went on at 6am. A man came through strumming his guitar and singing, “Morning Has Broken”. It was a sweet way to be awakened.

We walked to the nearest village. On our way we saw a bus load of Koreans who were loading their suitcases onto a tour bus. They rushed to a restaurant for breakfast which is were we wandered. Then they rushed down the Camino with their day packs on. We wondered why they were in such a big hurry.

We hiked in the foothills so there was still a lot of ups and downs. It took about 8 hours to reach Zubiri and we were totally exhausted. It was about 6pm and we didn’t have a reservation anywhere. All of the Albuergues and Pensions were full. We ended up in the Municipal Albuergue. Only 8 euros. There were several dorms. Ours was a big room with about 25 bunks. Unfortunately you had to go outside to find the restrooms and showers.

The Japanese people next to us were doing facials and wore their masks to bed.

This is the 3rd floor accommodations at the monastery — very nice. We’ve heard the other floors were not so nice and they had bunk beds. The late comers are rewarded with the best accommodations.

A nice quiet breakfast in Buergete. The bus load of Koreans just left.

They call this a tortilla. They are severed everywhere. They cost less than $4. We had a really good one today  … it was bacon, cheese and lots of garlic

Burguete boasts that it is the witch capitol of the world. Lots of enchanted forests nearby.

Another beautiful sunny day. Too sunny, were starting to get a little too much color. Using lots of sunscreen.

We ended the day at thMuni at Zubiri. Our Japanese neighbors slept with their facial masks on. 

Orrison to Roncesvalle


Day 2:  APRIL 19, 2017

Lights on at 6am. Everyone was up and moving. Beautiful sunrise over the Pyrenees. We trudged up our first hill. Had a wonderful rest at the Virgin of Orrison. There were a few families camped there. Lots of kids and the women were all wearing skirts even the little girls. The hillside was dotted with battle stations left from WWII. They were stone structures that two people could stand behind and shoot from. Very eerie to see. This was a very gruesome and bloody battle between the Spanish and the Germans. I can’t imagine fighting a war in this terrain. We crossed the Spain/France border. Rugged trail with lots of steep and gravely downhill. We were exhausted when we came to the monastery in Roncevalle. It is an Albuergue that holds over 200 people. We were ;late so we got the luxury accommodations on the third floor — no bunk beds. We had a lovely dinner at the Roncevalle hotel. Lots of paella, pork and leche cake. At the Albuergue, my cell mate was Francesca from Italy and Terry had a Korean woman.

Sunrise at Orrison.

The Virgin of Orrison watches over the mountains.


Battle stations from WWII dot the hillside. We passed at least two dozen and more on the next hill. 

Behind the WWII battle station. There are two more stations that can be seen off in the distance.

This photo doesn’t do justice to the steep terrain. This was a very challenging pass to cross.

The border of France and Spain. Lots of steep and lots of downhill.

Roncevalle finally! Didn’t think we’d ever get there.

This the monastery we stayed at in Roncevalle. We never saw the monks but there is group of volunteers from the Netherlands that run the place.

This is my bed and Terry is in the next cell.




It was a quiet night, especially because I had two sets of earplugs in my ears. Lights were flashing all over the room. The rowdy fans had their headlamps on and were packing up at 6am. We were tired and didn’t start rolling out until about 7:30. Everyone had to be out by 8am. We walked through the town to find the start of the Camino. Very exciting. We were definitely going uphill. We were about a mile out when the really steep climb started. It was brutal but there were lots of pleasant distractions … horses, sheep, flowers, mountains. After three hours of climbing we were exhausted and that’s when the really steep part began. There was a shortcut through a field — too daunting.  We sat down for awhile to rest. Saw another pilgrim go by and he took the paved path which was a little longer but less treacherous. We took a deep breath and got our courage up. We had to set goals … let’s just make it to the next post, make it to the next clump of trees, make it to the next cowpie, etc. It took a long time. We had planned to go further to Roncevalle, but when we made it to the Alburgue at Orisson, we knew it was time to stop. It was about 1pm and the thought of having an afternoon to rest was too appealing. The only thing in Orisson is the Albuergue and a magnificent view of the Pyrenees mountain range Fortunately they two beds. We checked in.

We had a nice lunch. Took a hot shower and washed clothes. We soon discovered that clothes don’t  dry very well in the mountains. Our room had six bunks and the beds were very comfortable. A long afternoon nap was much needed. There were 55 hikers who enjoyed an authentic Basque dinner served with wine. They went around the room and everyone said where they were from. Only 3 Americans. Several Irish and Swedish, some Koreans, a few Canadians, Australians, British, French, Spanish, Italians and a South African. The day ended happy.

A river flows through St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

The lobby of our first Albuergue.

First steps on the Camino. Look how happy we were. We didn’t have a clue of the torture that awaited us.

Starting to get STEEP.

The Albuergue at Orisson.

Love the Basque beer.

A lovely Basque dinner was served to 55 pilgrims.

Horses wander by the Albuergue.

My clothes hung outside in the wind for hours and never dried. I hung them from my bunk and they never quite got dry. Packed them damp.

Arriving at Our Starting Point



Our plane landed early around 7am and we easily found the train station at terminal 2. What was not so easy to find was an ATM that would accept my travel card. I felt like I was in Vegas doing the slot machines. After a lot of frustration and many attempts I was able to obtain a minimal amount of Euros. Then I received a text message from Wells Fargo Fraud Control stating there was suspicious activity and someone was attempting to use my card. Yes, that would be me! The card was set up through a banker who knew I was going to France and Spain for two months. And, I called the bank again before I left to be sure my cards were set up for use in France and Spain. Oh well. It did take a phone call to the bank to get it all straightened out and now I’m cash happy.

Our train arrived in Bayonne, France around 5:30 pm. Being Easter Monday, a holiday in France, there was no evening bus service to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. An employee at the Bayonne terminal helped us find a cab. She arranged for the driver to take 5 of us to St. Jean for $20 euros each. We loaded our backpacks and jumped in the cab for the 1-1/2 hour ride. I gathered the money from everyone and offered it to the cab driver but he said no. So I held on to it.  Here’s where the fun began. It reminded me of the drivers in Honduras — good drivers but very fast and scary. We were entering the mountains and there were several times it felt like a head-on collision was coming. The German guy sitting behind me kept squealing and it wasn’t with delight. The poor woman from Arizona in the far back seat kept pleading, “slow down, you’re making me sick.” The cab driver didn’t speak English so away we went. When we arrived, I handed him the 100 euros. He counted it and a few minutes later came back at us and was apparently unhappy. I don’t speak much Spanish but from what I could understand, his meter read 136 euros. The others responded that it was a pre-arranged price and that is all we are paying. He was angry and began harassing each of us as we walked away. To appease him, Terry and I offered him another $15 euro. He wouldn’t take it — he wanted 36. We just kept walking. He followed us. I did hear the word Gendarme, so I think he was threatening to call the police.  He was in my face barking out Spanish. I just shook my head and said I don’t understand. He followed us to the Camino Pilgrim’s office stated his case to them. Not sure what they said to him, but he left, never to be seen again,. Whew!

So now we were very tired from the 7 hour flight, the 7 hour train ride and the cab driver from hell. Terry and I set out to find a nice quiet Albergue where we could relax and unwind. After much walking around we were frazzled by the time we found, “Le Chemin vers l’Etoile”. The hospitalier stamped out Camino passports and invited us to the dinner which was already in progress. We rushed to get rid of our backpacks and returned to the dining room which was anything but quiet. French fans from two opposing soccer teams were shouting our their team songs and calls back and forth. I’ve been to a lot of Packer games but have never seen anything like this (see video). We filled our wine glasses and sat back and watched. Then we all sang, Allouetta and Frere Jacques. My bed was calling me. It was a bit horrifying to discover that the rowdy soccer fans were our dorm mates. Fortunately the rules are strict at the Albuergues — lights out at 10pm, lights on at 6am. It had been a long day.

Our flight left Minneapolis at 4pm and we arrived in Paris around 7am.

The cell phone charging stations at the CDG airport were pedal powered. What a good idea to stretch your legs while charging your phone or laptop.

Angry cab driver from hell. We just couldn’t get away from him.

Our first Albuergue experience.

Rambunctious soccer fans at dinner time. Dinner consisted of a hearty pork stew, rice and couscous.

The joy of bunk beds! Our dorm room had about 8 bunks. It was weird having that person so close to my bunk. We’ve been calling him “The Corpse”. He was laying in bed when we arrived and still laying in bed when we left. He talks French in his sleep and in English on the trail.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose??

We do know the way to Santiago. On the Camino, you follow yellow arrows for 500 miles. Even though we can’t take our guidebooks with because they’re too heavy, I do have a lightweight Michelin Camino map that we will be using. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find our way.

We do know the way to get a good airfare. It takes lots of patience and persistence. On the Monday evening before Thanksgiving I was running errands and grocery shopping. Terry was frantically texting me to hurry up and get home, the airline prices dropped. It was $400 round trip to Madrid. It was well after 10pm when we started looking at possibilities. We ended up booking Delta from Minneapolis to Paris, round trip, direct flights for $600. The only better price would have been to use frequent flier miles, which I did.

Several people have asked if we were going with a group, is someone arranging this for you? Do you have your hotels all lined up? No, no and no.  It’s taken two years of careful planning and research. There are many guidebooks, blogs and apps that provide a vision of what to expect. You have to rely on your experience, common sense and personal preferences to make decisions. Many years ago, my husband David and I quit our jobs and traveled around Europe, Turkey and Morroco in an old Volkswagen Van for a year. At that time, personal computers, internet, google maps and cell phones didn’t exist. The guidebook we used was, “Europe on $5 a Day”.  (So thankful we went when it was still $5 a day). We navigated over 20 countries the old fashioned way and had an amazing experience. The best advice we received came from a Kiwi (New Zealander) who successfully encouraged us to go to Istanbul. He said to let your guard down. Try not to view things through American eyes. Good advice!

I’ll Be Wearing This or That


I have never been a light traveler, my friends and family will attest to that. However, being the product of Catholic school systems,  I’ve always liked the idea of wearing a uniform and that fits right in with this expedition. Two sets of clothes for two months. Not exactly a uniform, but it may as well be. You never have to think about what to wear, it’s either this or that. I’ve read a lot of Camino blogs and just about every one of them touts a Pack List. No one has listed pajamas on their pack list. I hope that means everyone sleeps in their clothes.

We will be staying at Albergues which are simple, affordable accommodations that have beds with mattresses, restrooms and showers. Some have as many as 200 beds in an open room, others have dormitory rooms with a half dozen bunks. Reservations are not necessary. An assortment of other more private accommodations are also available for a little more money. Walk as far as you want, stop when you need to. The Camino always provides.

“The sun will shine upon you one day

 If you’re always walkin’ your way.”

Walk Don’t Walk

Diamonds & Pearls album


The Call of the Camino

My journey will be a 500 mile trek that starts in France at St. Jean Pied-de-Port which is near the border. The first day brings a hike over the Pyrenees and into Spain where it traverses through uninhabited wilderness, towns, villages and urban centers across the northern regions. This medieval pilgrimage route, also known as, “The Way of St. James”, culminates in Santiago de Compostela at the cathedral where the relics of St. James lie. Spanish tourism websites promote El Camino as a walking and cycling holiday.

Over 150,000 people walk this Camino each year for a variety of reasons. Being a global citizen, I look forward to seeing who I will cross paths with, where they are from and what inspired them to take a walk across Spain. As a curious adventurer, I want to explore the different regions, the villages, the people, food and culture of northern Spain. I want to savor the history and sacredness of this medieval path rich with spiritual significance.

My inner journey will have the luxury of many miles to ponder all of the mysteries of life  … such as how someone who, decades ago, swore she would never ever backpack anywhere,  committed to carrying a 25-lb backpack across Spain. How someone who didn’t even like hiking, not only committed to a two-month hike, but did an extra 500 miles (with 25-lb backpack) before beginning her walk across Spain. Such mysteries may never be solved but there will be plenty of time to be inspired, motivated and awakened to new perspectives, new caminos and new adventures in living. Questions to be reflected upon include, who am I today and where am I going tomorrow?

Accompanying me on this magical mystery tour will be my “sole” sister, Terry Ruttger. Over the past two years, we have had many soul searching and sole searching discussions about boots, socks, jackets, resiliency, stamina, endurance, life, solar energy, transitions and so much more as we brought this dream to fruition. As with the 25+ years that we’ve known each other, we’ve experienced a lot of ups, downs, bumps, hiccups and sunshine on our path as we prepared for this trip. All systems are go, we are packed and ready to roll. Please join me on this adventure by following my blog.

Look out Spain, here we come.