By Cheryl Ryan
I did it. I finished! It exceeded my expectations – it was, honestly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was hard at times (ok, I wasn’t always crushing it but it sounded good in the title) and strikingly beautiful. I’m feeling especially grateful that I overcame the drumbeat of naysaying voices that took up residence in my head and decided to go anyway.
We went with The Natural Adventure Stage 1 tour. It’s a self-directed tour, meaning that you follow the well-marked path without a guide and when in doubt, ask other hikers. We went off path a couple of times while getting in and out of cities, but were always directed back to the appropriate path, usually by well-meaning Spaniards (often when we didn’t even know we’d gone off trail).
They count your arrival and departure dates as part of the trek, but we were only walking for 7 days. Our estimated mileage came in at about 100 miles. You should add mileage, though, for coming into towns, finding your accommodations, looking for stores or bathrooms, and site seeing in the evening.
Our lodging was perfectly adequate, except for the first night. Our room on the first night was very disappointing. The room was in disrepair and not as clean as the others – yet his breakfast almost made up for it! All of the others were different degrees of good, some with better breakfasts, some with better ambiance.
Of course you want a decent room, but we usually started around eight to nine every morning and got to our next room around four. What you really need is a clean room, a good shower, a comfortable mattress, and access to an area where you can find a great dinner while exploring the city and they all had that.
We launched on May 16. The weather promised to be horrible, according to all weather reports. We carried rain gear with us most of the time but ended up getting so lucky. Our weather was mainly cloudy skies with filtered afternoon sunlight. But if we had gone just one week earlier, I would be writing a completely different story. The weather the week before was unseasonably wet and cold. We benefited from all that rain by hiking in exquisite green hills over the Pyrenees mountain pass. The truth is you never know what Mother Nature will serve up when doing outdoor activities. That’s all part of it.
On our first day, we trekked about 16 miles with 4500 feet of elevation gain. It was spectacular! I trained hard for that day. But it was actually the third day that was my hardest. I anticipated that it would be an easy hike day and didn’t take my hydration and electrolytes seriously. I paid the price by the end of the day. From then on, I changed my approach. I approached each day knowing that it would be hard and that I needed to hydrate, eat properly, and use electrolytes to finish strong. I got a little stronger each day, and by our last 18-mile walk, I felt like I could keep going.
There were seven of us, and we all had slightly different paces. We had some really fast walkers and some middle-road walkers. Nobody in our group was slow. But after a couple of days, we knew that those faster would get into town sooner and wait for the rest of us (usually finding a lovely little bar that we would join once finished), and then we all went in search of our hotel together. We were never more than thirty minutes behind each other but it allowed each of us to go at our own pace.
We found great food and wine each night. I love Spanish food. We usually ate at or near our hotels. The larger towns like Pamplona and Logrono had more to choose from, so we needed to take a car to the old town center, where we found, not only, great food but a happening scene.
This part of the Camino is in Basque Country and they are known for their food. I loved the Spanish style of cooking the whole fish. It’s so fresh. They are also known for the pintxos, which we ate plenty of.
Since the Camino has become increasing popular in recent years, there is an established ecosystem supporting pilgrims (what we hikers are called) along the way. We really appreciated that we were never too far from a good bar, restaurant or coffee shop.
Although I would love to relive and share each day with you here, it would be too much. There are some great blogs out there doing just that, but I’ll share some of my highlights, some things to think about and pictures since, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Highlights: Day one hiking over the Pyrenees pass, the changing countryside, the food, the fields of wheat, the sweeping vistas, Roman ruins and medieval hill towns, stumbling upon the training of the young bulls in preparation for the running of the bulls this season, and the golden evening light in town.
Things to look out for: Bring a proper day pack and a 3-liter water bladder. There is not a bathroom system, so go whenever you find one (even if you don’t think you need to). Learn how to use electrolytes while doing some walking training. Use the shoes that you will be wearing. Hydrate while traveling to avoid as much jet lag as possible.
Walking through the countryside is an amazing way to travel. We often go right to big cities when traveling, but when you think about it, when we usually go on vacation it’s outside of big cities. And that’s what is so cool about this journey. This sort of travel lets you see the countryside up-close and personal.
If you have any questions about this trip feel free to message me and I’ll get back to you with more details.
In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying a lovely summer of travel. Please share your adventures with us. We are always looking for new, interesting places to go!