Monday, 3 October, 2016

When the church bells woke me that morning at 07:00, I was so comfortable in bed that I was sorely tempted to roll over and stay for another hour.  But the nagging ache in my big toe reminded that all was not well.  The nail had gone brown and black and had started to pull away from the flesh.  It was bothering me the previous evening, and I must have caught it on the sheets when turning over during the night.

My hostess told me that there was no pharmacy between Ziga and Pamplona, some 50 km away, but she supplied me with some gauze and sticky tape, and I was able to carefully wrap the toe, hopefully avoiding further damage.

So off I set to cover the 25 km to Lantz, via a 600 m ascent over the mountain.

The road from Ziga climbed steadily, passing through the little neighbouring villages of Berroeta and Almándoz.  At Venta San Blas I left the road behind and the path zig-zagged up through the forest.  Everywhere the ground was covered with a thick layer of autumn leaves, and the sky was a piercing blue.  It was a glorious autumn day.

In the entire day, the only people I saw were two men hunting for mushrooms.  They told me that I had a long way to go to Lantz.  I did not need reminding of that fact.  They also said that the markings were quite faded and to watch out for false paths.

There were two high points with a significant dip between them.  That part was very wet, the rocks were slimy and very slippery, and all was coated in a thick layer of leaves and mud.  It seemed that the sun never reaches that area and I made very slow progress, trying to ensure that I did not once more sprain my ankle.

When I finally emerged from the marshy area and passed over the second high point into warm sunshine, the going came suddenly easier, for the ground was dry and the views were stunning.

A few minutes later I passed the newly built Ermita de Santiago.

Ermita de Santiago at 911 m

At the end of the valley below was the XII century pilgrim hospital of Santa Maria de Belate.

Ermita de Belate (photograph from internet)

At this point the normal pilgrim route through the forest was closed, due to forestry work, and a temporary route had been marked, following the busy main road for about four km, until it re-joined the historic path.  The deviation added another three km to my total hike for the day.

I was footsore and quite weary when I finally reached Lantz.  Once more the accommodation was excellent, the hostess extremely hospitable and helpful.

And that first beer went down without touching the sides.

When I finally took off my boots and socks, I found that my injured toe had come through the day surprisingly well.

So one more day to go to Pamplona.


Urdax to Amaiur (16 km)

Saturday, 1 October, 2016

As I set out that morning from Urdax in the rain, my host cautioned me that the path started 300 m from his door, just before the monastery, and that it was quite steep for the first part.  He advised me to take it slowly and eventually it would ease, but that it would continue ascending for quite a way.

He was not exaggerating.  And the smooth rounded stones of the path were extremely slippery, which made my progress even slower than normal.  I had spent most of the last twelve months in Montevideo, Cape Town (Green Point) and Uppsala, none of which are vertically challenged, so my body did not quite know what had hit it.

But eventually the incline did indeed ease and the thumping of my heart reduced to a less noticeable level.  I sometimes forget that carrying a relatively heavy backpack has its physical cost, and that I have been on the wrong side of 50 for a few years now.

At one point in the ascent, I came around a corner to be confronted by a small herd of horses, five in all.  They looked extremely healthy and fit, although very wet, and they paid little attention to me.  As the path was narrow and steeply wooded on both sides, I had no alternative but to walk among them. One of them, a quite young horse, was very curious, and came up and nuzzled me.



Eventually the path started to descend and much of the descent was in cloud, with a light drizzle.


The going was much easier in the descent and before I knew it, I was in the village of Amaiur or Maya in the Vasco language.


I had to go through the village and back along the main road for twenty minutes to find the Casa Rural, where I had booked a room for the night.

Amaiur to Ziga (18 km)

Sunday, 2 October, 2016

To avoid having to walk back along the main road, my host showed me a path which he said was a shortcut back to the village.  Unfortunately, he omitted to check whether I had a brought a machete with me, for in parts the ‘path’ was overgrown with brambles and nettles. I eventually emerged in the middle of the village with some scratches and stings, quite convinced that my host had not used that path in recent years, if ever.

Looking back at Amaiur

For the rest of the day the going was relatively easy, at least when compared to the previous day.  Lots of descending and ascending, always ending up higher than the last ascent.

‘Tomb-stone’ fencing

The route passed through Arizkun, Elizondo – the largest town in the Baztan valley, and Irurita.

The central plaza of Irurita
A curious horny cow

Finally, after a last ascent, the village of Ziga came into view.



Once again I had a room in a beautiful Casa Rural, run by a charming couple.  There was no restaurant in the village, but the woman made me a baguette filled with cheese and ham and included a bottle of local wine.

Never has such simple food tasted so good.

And I slept through until dawn, and the ringing of the church bells.


Cambo-les-Bains to Urdax (28 km)

Friday, 30 September, 2016

After my experience of walking from Ustaritz to Cambo-les-Bains, I did not expect there to be a convenient path or a quiet country road to Espelette.  So for five kilometres I walked along a very busy main road, frequently stepping well back and holding on to my hat every time a monstrous truck came hurtling by.  And I lost count of how many drivers I saw talking on, or fiddling with, their phones.  It was a relief to get off the race track and into Espelette.

Espelette is an attractive town, famous for its production of dried and powdered red peppers.  Apparently they are sold at a covered market every Wednesday.  As it was Friday, I was quite happy to have missed the market, as I am not a great enthusiast of crowds.

Red pepper drying (photo from interet)

But my objective in going to Espelette was not to go shopping, it was to pick up the Camino de Santiago, which would lead me up the Baztan valley, over the Pyrenees and on to Pamplona.  I spotted the typical yellow arrow marking near the church, but I was not able to find a second.

The church of Saint-Etienne in Espelette

I asked several people for directions, but without luck.  Even in a busy bar nobody seemed to know anything of it. Eventually I found a second and subsequent yellow arrow marks at the edge of the town, and started off in what I believed to be the direction of the next village, Ainhoa, which was about 6 km away.

But after ninety minutes of following the yellow arrows, of toiling up and down steep rocky paths, seeing only deserted farm buildings, and not a soul in sight, I started to feel uneasy.  In the distance I saw a couple of modern looking houses on the other side of a valley, one with a car parked outside.  So I set off down another steep rocky path, across a stream and up the other side.  By the time I got to the houses, nearly two hours had elapsed since I left Espelette.

A woman answered my knock.  She informed me that she knew nothing of a path to Ainhoa or a Camino de Santiago, but she could direct me to the main road, which involved retracing much of the way I had already come, and following another country road.  I was quite lost.  I eventually came to the main road from Espelette, with four kilometres to go to Ainhoa.  In three hours I had progressed two kilometres towards Ainhoa.

The rest of the ‘hike’ along the main roads, through Ainhoa and on to the Spanish border at Dantxarinea, was relatively uneventful, but quite tiring, as it was a hot day.

Dantxarinea was something of a surprise to me.  I expected a small run-down border town, no longer with a function, since the abolition of EU borders.  Instead it turned out to be a bustling modern commercial centre stretching along both sides of the main road, with five service stations and very many large stores plus bars and restaurants.

Once across the border, the route was clearly marked, and more than once I was greeted with the traditional – buen camino.  It felt as if I had come home.  The road gently descended, until 45 minutes later I was in Urdax.

Urdax with its monastery (photo from internet)

Why did I become so lost earlier in the day?

Until I go back and retrace my steps, I will not know.  But I did receive something of a consolation in being told that evening, by my host, that it was quite a common experience among pilgrims starting in France.

And what had intended to be a walk of about 18 km, for me ended up as 28 km.



Bayonne to Cambo-les-Bains (25 km)

Wednesday-Thursday, 28-29 September, 2016

In former times, those who landed in the port of Bayonne to travel on to Pamplona or further, would go by the Baztan valley across the Atlantic Pyrenees. It was also the oldest path to Pamplona and on to Santiago de Compostella, pre-dating that of the Camino Francés from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

So it was on a perfect early autumn day I set off from Bayonne, following the path along the banks of the River Nive.  I saw very few people; an occasional runner, cyclist or a local, walking their dog.  It was extremely peaceful; only the sound of birds or the buzzing of a bee.

The river Nive

But after 15 km the peaceful walk ended at Ustaritz with the constant roar of trucks and cars hurtling through the narrow streets of the town.  I felt sure that there must have been a path or quiet road to Cambo-les-Bains, but according to the locals who I quizzed, the answer was a shrug of indifference.

So with no better alternative, I set off to walk the remaining 8 km to Cambo, along a noisy and heavily traveled road.

But eventually I arrived in Cambo, a delightful little town, and I put my ‘not-so-pleasant’ experience of French traffic behind me.

And the hotel was perfect.  The owner, Laurent Rodriguez, his wife and beautiful daughter, made my stay most pleasant and nothing was too much trouble for them.  I forgot to ask Laurent if he had played rugby, for he was built like a prop forward, with huge shoulders, massive arms and a neck like a tree trunk.

He was not someone that I would have relished having to tackle.

Hotel Laurent Rodriguez


A Dog’s Life


March 2016

We spotted the notice on a lamp post, inviting owners of salchichas (dachshunds) to a gathering in a park by the river the next afternoon, starting at 14:00.  It was being organized by a Facebook page called Salchichas Uruguay.  As we passed that park on La Rambla nearly every day, we decided to go that way the next day.

We had lunch in nearly Punta Carretas, and headed for the park.  Even if we had not already known where the park was, all we would have had to do was to follow the stream of salchichas, all heading in the same direction.

And when we arrived at the park there were already a multitude sniffing each other, barking, yapping, growling, lifting their leg, and vacating their bowels.  And that was just the dog owners.

The Facebook page had about 1000 members at that time and the organizers had expected 50-100 owners to turn up.  They were quite overwhelmed by the response, and by the end of the day over 400 dogs had attended.

Meeting of dachshund owners

There were only two requirements for the owners; all dogs had to be kept on a leash and no females in heat were welcome.  I could imagine the ensuing chaos if an owner had not respected the second requirement.  It would have been comical to watch.

Un Ménage á trois

During the afternoon there were gifts handed out, a raffle was drawn, and prizes were given for the best dressed dog.

A rather embarrassed dachshund trying to look inconspicuous

Every day we saw many dogs on La Rambla, most not on a leash, despite the busy traffic on one side.  They seem be well trained and responsive to the owners and I have never once seen two Pocitos dogs growl or fight.  Many run with their owners, and I have even seen one that swims along parallel to the beach, while the owner strolls along, usually talking on his phone.

There are many owners, perhaps older citizens, who employ dog walkers to exercise their pet.  Over the three summers that I have been in Pocitos, I have got to know two of the many dog walkers, one who specializes in small dogs, and the other in large dogs.  They told me that the maximum either have taken at one time is 14-16 and the guy who takes only large dogs is built like a weight lifter.  His own dog is not on a leash, and trots ahead and stops at each light, until it is told it can cross.  It is amazing to watch the human-to-dog communication.

One of many dog walkers in Montevideo

We also saw dog walkers in Buenos Aires, but the ones that we saw were wearing special belts, to which they snap the leashes, leaving their hands free and eliminating the risk of a dog escaping.

Three dog walkers in Buenos Aires

In Mendoza, we saw many street dogs, especially in the park.  In no way were they aggressive; they were more a nuisance, in that they wanted to be adopted, and they insisted in following one everywhere.

My eldest son, Andrew, had a similar experience in North West Argentina, where street dogs followed him and his friends from where they were staying, when they went hiking in the nearby foothills of the Andes.

Andrew in the Andes with his faithful canine friend

We also saw many street dogs in Santiago de Chile.  To cross a busy street, they sit at an intersection, waiting for the lights to turn green.  Sometimes they cross with people, at other times by themselves.

A street dog in Santiago de Chile, waiting to cross the street

In English the expression ‘leading a dog’s life’ can have two diametrically opposed meanings.

On the one hand it can mean something that is pleasant – the good life: pampered, well fed, warm, comfortable.

But it can also mean something that is unpleasant – a rough life: sleeping outside in all weathers and surviving on scraps.

In our time there, we saw very many examples of both extremes.

End of the Earth


Tuesday-Thursday, 9-11 October, 2012

When I set out on this walk from France, I had the intention of continuing from Santiago to Fisterra on the Atlantic. But the weather changed for the worst, and after three days of waiting for the torrential rain to ease, I decided that ‘discretion was the greater part of valour’, and I caught a bus for the last 90 km to Fisterra.

The Galician name Fisterra was derived from the Latin – finis terrae, meaning ‘end of the earth’. In Spanish it is known as Finisterre and in French, Finistère.  For anyone who remembers the Shipping Forecast that used to precede the one o’clock news on BBC Radio One, Finisterre was one of the shipping areas.

Fisterra is in fact not the westernmost point of continental Europe; that honour lies in Portugal, with Cabo da Roca, which is about 16.5 km further west.

All the way to Fisterra the rain continued to pour down.  Luckily there was a hotel just 100 m from the bus terminal, and I had no problem in getting a room, as there was only one other guest.

For the next twenty-four hours the rain did not cease and the street beside my hotel resembled an Amazonian river in full flood. At least I was dry and comfortable. I did not venture out that day.

In late morning of the next day the sky brightened and the sun shone, albeit only between heavy showers. I decided to set off for the short one hour walk to the Cape. Half-way there the sky suddenly darkened, and the rain fell in buckets. I sheltered successfully in a grove of trees until it passed.

In the far distance one can see the lighthouse

The cape with its lighthouse was bleak, with a strong wind not encouraging hanging around for very long.

The lighthouse at the Cape

Far out in the Atlantic I spotted a large black blob, that I realised was a rain storm, and it was heading directly for the cape. I found a building behind which I could shelter and watched it approach. And for the next thirty minutes it lashed down and visibility was close to zero.

It is not surprising that the area is known as ‘La Costa da Morte‘. In 1596 twenty-five boats sank in a storm off the cape, with over 1700 drowned. Few years have ever gone by without a sinking, even in modern times.

But as suddenly as the squall hit and dissipated its energy, it gradually eased and visibility and the sun slowly came back.

I wandered back down to the village and a leisurely lunch with Caldo Gallego, a chunk of bread and a bottle of wine.

One of the many versions of Caldo Gallego

A perfect meal for a cold damp blustery day.


Arzúa to Santiago de Compostela


Arzúa to O Pedrouzo (18km)

Friday, 5 October, 2012

That morning I ended up a little lost.  I was going in the right direction, but not on the pilgrim’s path.  I stopped at a bar and had some breakfast, and was directed to where I wanted to be.

I had not gone more than 200 m along the correct path when I came across an incredibly beautiful sunrise through the trees.  I shall never forget it as long as I live.  It was as if heaven was lighting my way.

Lighting my way in the early morning

Much of the previous two days had been spent walking on paths through forests; the scent of clean air and wood has been almost intoxicating. I have never before smelled anything so saturated with purity.

And the path wound steeply up and down, through small villages with ancient churches, and hamlets with only a handful of houses.

I spent the night in O Pedrouzo.

O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela (20km)

Saturday, 6 October, 2012

For the previous day the weather had been perfect; not too hot and certainly never cool. And yet that next morning all was changed; the sky was grey and threatening.  I envisaged a depressing six hour walk, arriving in Santiago, soaked and cold, with a room yet to be found.

But the rain held off, and after a long walk through the hilly outskirts of the city, wondering how much further could it possibly be, there it was, down a steep and narrow street: the cathedral.

The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

With the downpour now seeming imminent, I decided that my priority was to find shelter. With a map from a very helpful girl in a tourist office, I found a room close by, and just in time; the heavens opened to welcome me to Santiago de Compostela.

I decided to leave the sanctuary to the next day.

Santiago de Compostela

Sunday, 7 October, 1912

It felt strange that morning to not pack up and head out to spend the day walking to the next overnight stop.  I spent most of the morning having a lazy breakfast, washing some clothes and generally wondering what to do next.

At lunchtime I wandered down to the cathedral. It took me quite a few minutes to get up the steep stone steps and in the main door; a mass had apparently just finished and the participants were in mass exodus. I found an empty pew to the right of the altar and sat quietly watching people and letting my mind wander.

It was not long before another mass started and the pews around me quickly filled; it seems that the masses were almost continuous throughout the day. Two nuns and a woman in normal street clothes led most of service, joined by an old priest who mumbled for what seemed like an eternity.

The ritual seemed unchanged from my previous experiences of mass; the same standing, sitting, responding, crossings. It left me feeling quite uninspired; it was about as motivating as watching a tap drip. I suspect that if Jesus and his disciples returned that day, they would not have felt inspired either.

After the mass finished and the aisles cleared, I left the church by the side door and went back around to the main square. As I turned the last corner, I heard beautiful singing; it sounded very similar to the melody of ‘Danny Boy’. It was coming from an archway by the corner of the cathedral and the acoustics were projecting the notes across the huge square.

And as I got closer, I realised that it was indeed ‘Danny Boy’, in heavily accented English, sung by two young tenors. When sung well, the song can bring tears to the eyes of a statue.


It’s the melody and lyrics that mean a lot to me, and in his time, to my father too; he played it at almost every performance he gave. 

The singers were very talented, and when they hit the high note at the end of the last verse, I felt a wave of intense emotion surging through me, like an electric current. 

It was the feeling that I so much wanted to experience inside the cathedral, at the end of my Camino.  But the dogma and the ritual and the old mumbling monotone priest left me completely empty.

Was it just a coincidence that I walked into the square just as the two tenors started singing ‘Danny Boy’, and ending my Camino on a high note?


But I suspect not.