The first day of our second week started with a half day. After covering 165km in only 7 days, we thought we deserved it. Just 13km and 4 hours later, we arrived in Navarette and ended up at a wonderful hostel (with warm showers). We spent the afternoon sleeping in a park to make up for a week of early starts! We stumbled upon Navarette on the right day because they had an evening of local traditional dancing in the main square that we were invited to see by the owner of the hostel.
Waking up refreshed and with less pain in our bodies did not make it any easier to start the day and leave, it made it so much harder. After procrastinating as much as we could, we left the hostel and went for breakfast, where we were able to procrastinate even more. When we did get on the road again, it was worth it. The walk from Navarette to Nájera was truly gorgeous. Vineyards covered the landscape and we walked through even more quaint little villages.
I’ve never been a morning person, but beginning our days walking as the sun was rising made me realise what a stunning time of day it can be. Especially as the sun rose over the red earth of La Rioja. The landscape looked like it was on fire, at times you couldn’t tell where the sunrise ended and the earth began. La Rioja is truly one of the most beautiful regions in Spain.
By Santo Domingo de la Calzada (our 11th day walking) the Camino de Santiago had begun to take its toll on people. Minor muscle strains became major, blisters got infected and people started giving up and finding reasons to stop walking. We were very fortunate. Although we had done less preparation (reading up on what to wear and take), we ended up better prepared than most people! So many people were wearing big hiking boots and getting terrible blisters from them. We had Salamon trail running shoes, which caused less blisters, were much lighter and dried much more quickly after getting caught in the rain compared to hiking boots. I had one tiny blister that I popped and it went away without any problems.
It was a shame that the Camino de Santiago didn’t spend more time in La Rioja, but I would love to go back and do a wine tour there one day. Only a few hours out of Santo Domingo we entered the region of Castilla y León, welcomed by a great map showing cities we would be passing through in the next 16 or so days. I had high hopes for this region, because Salamanca (the city where I studied Spanish in 2006) is in the south. It also has the honor of the largest section of the Camino in Spain. And it didn’t let us down.
We had our biggest walk of the Camino de Santiago thus far, from Belorado to Atapuerca – over 30km in 30˚C+ heat. I have no idea how some people are able to walk 30km every day on the Camino, I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it. Our theory of walking was once we were so tired that we were looking at our feet and not at the view, then it’s not worth walking any further. This was generally at about 26-27km, so we tried to keep most of our days at or below 25km. Most people pass through Atapuerca without realising that remains of the earliest known Hominids in Western Europe were found in the Atapuerca Mountains. Needless to say we were exhausted and put satisfying our hunger ahead of a visit to the museum. But that’s the Camino; like Spanish tapas you get to ‘taste’ a little bit of the regions, towns and villages you pass through, but you can’t stop and see everything.
The next day we walked to Burgos. We were sitting on a park bench having a snack when a lovely old man approached us. It turned out that he had done the Camino de Santiago 5 times before and wanted to show us a nicer way to walk into Burgos (the outskirts of cities are usually very ugly to walk though – they’re generally very industrial or dilapidated areas). So we accepted. We ended up walking about 4km further than we would have, but we were walking through forest, and then a park talking to such an interesting tour guide. We were already starting to realise that it is the people you meet that makes the Camino what it is.
That IS lucky!! I’d definitely walk a few kilometres out of my way to walk a nicer path through the forest to my next destination.
I’d like to know what time of year you went? I don’t know whether to go in July or September. I’ve heard July is almost unbearably hot and overcrowded, whereas September is cooler and the crowds are less… but if I took July off, I’d at least have some leeway to keep on the Camino until August (which means I could go at my own pace without having to rush).
We did the Camino from the mid-April to mid-May and got extreme weather from 36 degrees in Navarra, La Rioja and Galicia to freezing and snow in Castilla y León. I would prefer September as it’s not much fun at the end of a 30km walk to find out that all the hostels are full and you have to keep walking when it is so unbearably hot. I also agree that having time up your sleeve is a good thing to have though, could you start late in August, thus giving yourself the extra time?
Starting late August is something I’ve also toyed with… depending on how long it would take me to get to the “Meseta” between Burgos and Leon (I’m assuming 7-10 days from St. Jean?). I’ve heard the plains can have extremely high temperatures… I wouldn’t want to do that section in summer, that’s for sure.
We took 13 days to get to Burgos (that did include 2 half days – we were lucky enough to have a lot of time available to us) so I’d say 7 – 10 is reasonable if you have a good pace. The Meseta would be really tough when it’s so hot, once you leave the hostel there’s really not a lot of shade out there. You might find yourself having to extend the siesta a lot longer until the temperatures drop a bit!