Writing from Zariquiegui – Day 4

There’s a saying around here that says ‘whatever you need the Camino will provide’ and it does. Of course you have to ignore the DOMS in your legs, the old injuries that you WILL feel and the heat rash or whatever it is on your feet! Oh and you must be good with the squat … don’t worry a tree to hide behind or a path to scurry down will appear. Oh but how I’m loving all of it.

Days on the Camino – 4

Kms – kms today 30 kms. Total is around 85kms (all the maps are different). I’m still blister free but I have some weird kind of heat rash (I think) on my feet, not itchy or bothering me.

Starting point today – Larrosoaña, Spain.

End of the day – Zariquiegui, Spain.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 17

Total funds raised so far $5,350.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here.

Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – Today I’m dedicating to Martha, the super sweet young Danish girl we shared a room with last night. She was providing this past 24 hours … a meal for a fellow pilgrim who arrived late (remember Carol :)) and some expert pack adjustment that saved someone’s upper back a whole lot of wasted load bearing (mine 😉). She’s a special one and I just know this walk is going to make her one courageous and strong young women – even though she already is, she’s here alone hiking the Camino! She’ll know she can do anything after this.

Accommodation – The albergue San Andrés in Zariquiegui is another awesome hostel. It’s €11 per night (shared mixed dorms). The pilgrim meal was $11 with a choice of 3 courses, wine and served at whatever time you want to eat – that’s a first!

Food highlight – Ooh a hard one today … each meal featured the locally grown regional specialty of long peppers. Tonight’s pilgrim meal wins because … a. starving … and b. hiked my guts out today.

In a word(s) – aching and smiling equally, from the inside out – freaking love it.

Yesterday along that route we came across a man handing out brochures for an Albergue in Larrosoaña … guess where we stayed?! And it was the only place in that small town that was serving a meal and the company was excellent – the Camino provided!

At that hostel I heard a man telling his story of why he is on the Camino. There was a butterfly in it and there was an older man from across the seas telling him about synchronicity … I think I heard tears. I won’t share people’s full stories here, these are shared with pilgrims on the Camino. They’re personal and where they should stay. I do hope that man found some peace being provided with the idea of synchronicity.

We’ve now discovered these privately run albergue’s that cost €3 or so per night more than the municipal ones but have a slightly higher comfort level. We’ve also realised that hiking the extra 5 kms further along the route to stay in the small villages provides with accommodation you don’t need to leave once you stop.

The travel aspect of this trip is the walking. Those 7 or so hours I’m spending on my feet wandering through the Spanish towns and countryside. It’s such an unbelievably amazing experience to be breathing fresh air and never knowing what will unfold in that time. We plan the next destination the night before and that has worked well for us. It has provided us with the freedom to stay in today.

Today most of the day was spend walking alongside the river Arga and for the first time we hiked through a city. We laughed out loud when we realised at the traffic lights in Pamplona that as my sister stretched I was busy rehydrating from my water bladder … not standing still! The laughs with my sister have been flowing and that’s providing me with such a great feeling of fortune to be able to share this experience with her.

In the next few days we want to average about 27kms per day. We also know that we want to land, shower, wash our clothes and plonk ourselves down in the afternoons and then not move. It’s our MO. My sister reads, I write, offload my photos and catch up on my One Girl stuff. It’s providing the opportunity for a nice routine. It’s what I wanted to re-invigorate on the Camino – the non negotiable’s in my day.

A lot of socializing happens but I think I hike as I do life .. if it works like last night – great. But mostly I don’t always need it, my sister is similar. Just the same as once we hike beyond where a new friend wants to stop we say good bye and we’re careful not to try and commit to meet ups, the walk takes precedence. Meet ups will happen organically if they work. We’re walking our own walk and there’s a nice feeling of comfort in not compromising what you do and don’t need.

Currently we seem to be on par with the young Germans we started with … we’ll see if our stamina can keep up with those young guns!

Thoughts go through my head while I’m walking but not as many as I’d expect for 7 hours of it! It’s a day’s work. A day that brings, satisfaction, laughter, community and joy in its simplicity. I can’t put it into words yet but a Camino in its routines, space and community feels a lot like an approach to life?!

Writing from Larrasoaña – Day 3

Arriving, unpacking, showering, clothes washing, afternoons to write, ponder the day, share stories and relax, dinner, repack, breakfast, hiking … repeat! That about sums up my days so far on the Camino. Quite routined yet absolutely unpredictable.

Days on the Camino – 3

Kms – 28kms today = 57kms total (blister free).

Starting point today – Roncesvalles, Spain.

End of the day – Larrosoaña, Spain.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 17

Total funds raised so far $5,295.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy  from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – Today I stepped for my friend Ian! We met some 15 years or so ago sitting in the immigration office in The Netherlands. We can have years without contact but always when our paths and cities collide we eat and we laugh. He has been so supportive of this trek, providing hours of PR work and life support (as required ;)). Since moving to The Netherlands he has been one of my closest confidants and biggest believers even though he lives in France. I love you my dear friend.

Accommodation – The albergue San Nicolás in Larrasoaña is a family run pilgrim hostel. It’s €12 per night, we added a pilgrim dinner here for €11 for the 3 courses. The rooms are female only which is nice.

Food highlight – It definitely wasn’t the breakfast – toasted baguettes that were so toasted I’d call them croutons! We stopped for a lunch break in Zubiri after the first 20kms – a tuna and olive empanada pie highlight hands down👌🏼👌🏼.

In a word(s) – settling in.

The Roncesvalles albergue runs like a well oiled machine. Not quite out of the mountains it sits at an altitude of 950m and is populated by 30 inhabitants! With the help of the Dutch friends of the camino who volunteer at this old monetary, pilgrims are orderly organised in from 2 and out by 8. Wake up music plays through the 200 room dorm speakers at 6.30am.

This morning we tried the pre-ordered breakfast. We had a long day of hiking ahead. We ordered it simply because of the ‘habit’ of sitting down to breakfast while on a holiday and because it was available. Note to future pilgrims walk a little on your way and you’ll find a better cafe and supermarket.

We soon realised that on the Camino sitting down to breakfast is a quick affair. Walking is what we get up to do, however you do you camino. While I carry my pack some opt to forward theirs on with transport to their next accommodation and this gentleman opts for a trolley for his bigger pack! I prefer to carry mine so we can decide on the day or during the walk where we will stop, but I have a time luxury, a strong(ish) back and my age helps.

I also like the idea that it feels like a day’s work! Good old fashioned hard work. Moving my body beyond its comfort zone and making it stronger. There was a time when we all would have moved and carried heavy things. That’s what I’m telling myself ;)

There was a lot of one foot in front of the other today and the ever present friendliness on the trail. I think walking your own pace is important and your own way … but sometimes when you meet someone who’s pace matches and the conversation is good and it works it’s awesome.

I think we’re beginning to build our Camino family. Tonight we caught up with the sprightly one (Carol) and said goodbye as we plan to go further tomorrow. It struck me over dinner as I spoke with Manuel (7th Camino) with his Spanish and my non Spanish how completely surreal this environment is. You know how kids love school camp? I think this is like that and as adults we’ve forgotten how fun school camp was!!

While the routine of how we start and finish the day each step, each climb, each corner brings something new. As we trekked away the snow topped mountains and through the rolling hills of the Navarra region we met the spring. We walked through farms, towns, plains, across rivers as we followed the Camino arrows into the realization that these days with their uniqueness will form something spectacular.

We’re going to try something new tomorrow. We’re opting for an early start with fruit (from the supermarket) to snack as we walk … we’ll stop for coffee at the first town.

The simplicity living with what you need in a pack and this minimal routine provides an ease to make these tweaks. The tweaks that improve the flow of the day, days that lead to weeks, weeks that will form the month – the walk. Each of us here will tweak different things but we will all arrive home tweaked for the better – how could we not.

Buen Camino

Fran x

Writing from Roncesvalles – Day 2

My first pilgrim meal. My first night in a dorm since … actually I don’t even remember. A sunrise reminiscent of those East Cork mornings and a day of mountain magic!

Days on the Camino – 2

Kms – 17.1 kms = total 25.1 (blister free).

Starting point today – Orrison in The Pyrenees, France.

End of the day – Roncesvalles, Spain.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 17

Total funds raised so far $5,255.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – Today I stepped for my husband in The Netherlands! This kind of hike with 4 school age kids is not possible without some selfless support. I am where I am because that incredible man is a dream nurturer.

Accommodation – The refuge in Roncesvalles is an old monastery. It’s €8 per night, we added breakfast €5 the one with fruit added and €10 for the 3 course pilgrim dinner. Two bunks per cubicle – I’m on the top bunk tonight ;).

Food highlight – Oh this is a hard one! The 3 course pilgrim meal last night was pretty fine – but the breaky . A bowl of coffee and two pieces of leftover baguettes from dinner toasted with jam.

In a word(s) – Bursting with amazement.

My first pilgrim meal was a three course family feeling affair in this French auberge at Orrison. At around 6 pm the tables were pulled together to form long shared dining tables … hogwarts or Henry the VIII style. I’d have to come out of the shadows and my corner table for this one. Time to join the pilgrim community ;).

After a deliciously simple 3 course dinner of soup, roast pork, beans, veggies and rice pudding we had to follow a ‘pilgrim tradition’. We had to introduce ourselves, our nationality and our purpose for walking. I actually ended up finding this more enjoyable than fearing it. Standing up in front of 30 strangers talking about myself is pretty nerve racking for me.

There are sisters walking, solo walkers, repeat walkers, mother and daughters walking, many ‘transitioners’! That’s a thing – people moving from work life to part time or retirement life.

There was also 23 year old Lucas who has just finished studying and is doing a Camino before he starts his work life. I think he’s going to be well equipped. Do you want to know something really cool? He’s doing it with his dad who having just finished his work life is seeing walking to see what’s next!

Sleeping was fine for those of you who cringed at yesterday’s post … happy to report there were no snorers in our dorm :) we got lucky. Not everyone was, the lovely British mother and daughters team shared stories of snoring woe over breakfast. They’ve checked into the hotel here tonight. If they’re lucky they’ll meet the Brilliantly inspiring Canadian lady I met the first night (the sprightly one, remember her?). She is staying there tonight I recall.

There are plenty of different ways to do a Camino friends! Plenty of ways to mix it up. I must admit I didn’t sleep the whole night, I think that will take time to ease into. Or maybe some longer hiking days.

We awoke to that sunrise I stopped overnight for! What a treat. You know it’s going to be a cracker of a day when you wake to a sunset like this … and it was. Choosing the Napoleon route to walk into Roncesvalles was the right choice for us. We hiked in sun, alongside snow, under the trees on all kinds of trails, surrounded by magnificent wonder as far as the eyes could see.

There was a point up on the mountain where we stopped for a break when Sally from the UK and Melinda from Canada approached me. At last night’s pilgrim dinner where they heard about my One Girl walk and they wanted to be a part of the change! They donated to my fundraiser and we talked girls education. I walk with spring (the season) but can I tell you this absolutely overwhelmed me. I had not expected this.

In a day many things can happen. On this day on the Camino in the vast beauty of this Pyrenean mountain leg, the hiking built strength, the community build hope, the space built the courage to be and the time with my sister built joy. Not to removed from the good things in normal life hey?!

Speaking of good things I thought I’d detox from coffee but it’s quite a simple pleasure on a Camino and in life … so I’m keeping it! Although when and how I’m drinking them is different – less habit more pleasure like.

Buen Camino from Roncesvalles.

Fran x

Writing from Orrison – Day 1

Today is the REAL beginning! It’s drizzling in this charmingly historic town of St Jean Pied de Port but our spirits are not dampened. We’re in the foothills of the French Pyrenees and there’s a spring in our step.

Days on the Camino – 1

Kms – easing in, 7.7 blister free kms.

Starting point today – St Jean Pied de Port, France.

End of the day – Orrison in The Pyrenees, France.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 15

Total funds raised so far $4,755.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – Today I stepped for my friend in Wales. Sometimes we need to take a bit of weight for each other. I admire her willingness to share her struggles and her ability to know exactly where joy lives. A beautiful and courageous woman sharing her story.

Accommodation – The refuge in Orisson €36 per night dinner, bed and breakfast. Three bunk beds per room :)

Food highlight – Lunch. Soup of the day €5 (bean I think!) with cheese on baguette made from breaky leftovers.

In a word(s) – Happily soggy

There’s a spirit in this town that has endeared itself to me. I already know I’ll be back to share it with my husband and children. Staying at our B&B there was also a French couple who had returned to St Jean Pied de Port for a visit. They did the Camino last December over winter … that’s the kind of town it is, people fondly return. Little pieces of hearts are left here. There’s a good energy vibing from that don’t you think?

The next main stop on the Camino is generally Roncesvalles in Spain. It’s 25 kms away and one of the most strenuous legs. There are two routes. This house is the crossroad where you choose. The Napoleon route to the left or along the road around to the right. Choosing the left is weather dependent and that’s the one we chose today.

We opted to stop at Orrison, the last French refuge on the ascent up through the Pyrenees (you need to pre-book this one). I had read of this refuge in Ger’s Camino blog and decided early on that if we took this route we’d stop here. One, to ease into the Camino and two because if I’m in the Pyrenees I want to see the Pyrenean sky at night, the morning sunrise and spend a few days enjoying one of my favourite mountain ranges.

My husband who is an experienced outdoorsy type joked that navigation (especially in fog) would be my only risk. Ok maybe not joked, I tend to get lost in the walking and missing an arrow is something I could definitely do. No fear I took the advise of the pilgrim’s office – this week the Napoleon route is safe (last week it wasn’t). It’s drizzly and foggy today and it felt a lot like being on the movie set of ‘The Way’. Tomorrow, for the harder part of the trek into Roncesvalles the forecast is beautiful!

We arrived at the refuge after 2 hours of hiking up the hill – nice and soggy. It was a welcome sight and the restaurant was packed with walkers. We checked in and received our little piece of gold … that token up there, the 5 minute warm shower! We were shown to our 3 bunk dorm room. The Aussie bloke who also arrived told us he has a machine to stop him snoring :), he’s not really blokey, more gentlemanly seems like a good kind of roomie. I’m the older sister so I got the bottom bunk – not sure how long I can pull the big sister thing off ;).

A warm shower, socks and sandals and a long afternoon to write my journal. I’ve also shared some laughs with my sister. There are many pilgrims around but we’re enjoying a quiet corner. It goes in waves, it’s quieter now but I’m surrounded by people meeting and chatting and it’s quite lovely to notice but I’m happy in the shadows today. If you like company or are worried about doing this on your own – don’t. You won’t be alone on a Camino! If you like quiet corners you can find them too.

Walking one foot in front of the other today was a familiar and homely feeling for me. Wandering amongst the rustic French countryside with the beginnings of the Spring blossoms and the lush green’scape of this region, even when it’s drizzly is worth celebrating.

Everyone likes to tell me it will be hard, that there will be hard days. If there are, I’ll write about them, I promise. Today I thought about hard. It’s relative don’t you think? Last night I met an inspiring woman who is back for her second Camino. She called herself elderly, I called her young. I think she’s living more than most. Her sprightly exuberance and willingness to live without excuse and regret is something that moved me a little. The friend she was due to travel with couldn’t come – she received a serious health diagnosis. That’s hard.

A steep mountain, feeling soggy and a shared dorm … that is all part of my experience. It makes the 5 min hot shower, the toasty dry woolly socks, the fresh air, the magic and peace of the mountains and the genuine comeradery amongst this crew I’m watching even sweeter!

Day 1 and I smiled inside and out. Just as another ‘one’ girl in Africa will when she hears about her scholarship! Without an education her life is hard. I also walked for her today as the tally in my fundraiser gave her that gift – thanks to some more MASSIVE generosity.

See you tomorrow from Spain.

Writing from St Jean Pied de Port. Day minus 1

Here I am! In St Jean Piet de Port the beginning of my Camino into Santiago de Compostela. It has taken me two days to find my way here and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’ve journeyed via Brussels and Bayonne, caught buses, trains and a plane. I’ve eaten from a French cave and dried my socks in all sorts of weird and wonderful places. My backpack has the 8kgs I’ll live with for the next 5 weeks. The simplicity of that is quite honesty one of my favourite layers of this adventure.

Days on the Camino – 0 (Tomorrow!)

Kms – 0

Starting point today – Bayonne, France

End of the day – St Jean Pied de Port

Number of girls in Africa educated – 14

Total funds raised so far $4,395.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – From tomorrow I’ll be dedicating each leg to someone who has or becomes a part of this journey.

Accommodation – Bed and breakfast €30 pn – traditional basque house.

Food highlight – Home-made preserved from the family ‘cave’ duck spread on French baguettes. Apéro – The French good life!

In a word(s) – Bursting with good feels

A lot of people ask about how my children feel about my adventure. They’ve sent me off adventure ready adorned with flowers from the garden, lovingly plaited wrist bands, hugs and kisses and a ‘have a good time mum’! They think I’m off to do a One Girl hike.

One Girl is a part of our family and a mum who hikes is their ‘norm’ so I like to think they feel proud. I’m proud of my mum for working hard, standing for what mattered to her and achieving her dreams.

After checking into our B&B we (my sister and I) made our way to the official pilgrim’s office to have our credential’s signed. It’s official!

The pilgrim’s office was more exciting than I anticipated. We were given a map to Roncesvalles and a list of all the towns on the way and what facilities they offered. Handy for planning food stops, cash withdrawals etc. I wanted to hug that gentleman who stamped my passport! Being on the cusp of an epic adventure is bloody euphoric.

It’s happening – it hit me there in that moment. I get to hike everyday through France to Spain and across an entire country meeting fellow hikers and travel types. I will be amongst landscapes and history my two great passions. I am lucky.

This medieval village and ancient capital of the Basque-Nevarre region is one of those delightfully charming European experiences. It serves a melting pot of nationalities and today it seemed mostly the walking types. Over dinner we chatted with an Irish couple and a Canadian lady who are here with their own stories and Camino dream.

Of course my story isn’t only about the hike it’s about One Girl. A few of my dearest have begun sharing my adventure on their SM feeds and my husband (man of few words) wrote the most beautiful call to support on his page too. I thought I could cruise now that I’d exceeded my goal of $3,000 – but where’s the challenge in that?!

In honour of this new wave of support I can’t help but want to stand a little taller for One Girl. So … I’ve come up with a new goal. It’s a 769km walk so how about $10 a km? That’s just 2 coffees right. It’s also scholarships for 25 girls, less than the average class size.

YEP! I’m dreaming larger – I’m already halfway there to $7,690 and I’m only at day one of his Camino. So spread the word – ask around see if anyone’s keen to give up a coffee or two.

Buen Camino friends I’m heading into the Pyrenees tomorrow.

F xx

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