Camino Francés

Between April 10 and May 31, 2016, Bay Area friends Cathy Seitchik Diaz and David Stewart walked from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, completing their second Camino. This page will include Cathy’s practical tips, route details, albergue recommendations, and highlights of the walk.

Cathy was recently interviewed on the Camino Podcast for the series about Camino Francés. You can listen to Episode 15 below. In this episode, conversations center on the first six stages of Camino Francés. The episode starts with Cathy Diaz reflecting on the first part of her pilgrimage—St. Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona/Cizur Menor. Rebecca Gallo picks it up from there and talks about the stretch leading to Los Arcos.


About Cathy

I met Cathy last spring when I first started learning about the Camino de Santiago. She is truly passionate about it and loves to share tips and advice. Her detailed posts on her Facebook timeline showed a glimpse of what pilgrim life really entails—from camaraderie to injuries. I had the opportunity to interview her on a hike in Santa Cruz (see Pilgrim Interview: Cathy Seitchik Diaz.) In November Cathy and David came up to Oakland for a NorCal Chapter event, A Walk in the Redwoods. In January she and I organized the Santa Cruz Coastal Hike. She even wrote a guest post, Walking the Camino as a Couple for the February “Camino Love” feature. Needless to say, Cathy is a great peregrina (female pilgrim) friend and a trusted source of pilgrim knowledge. Since she’s the official route reporter for Camino Francés 2016, her updates will be documented here for you to enjoy as well as to refer to when getting ready for your own Camino.

Please note: This page will get long, but I will add shortcut links at the top. Cathy likes detail, and David includes his perspective.

Pre-Camino Day Day 1D- 4.11 Monday

We got to St Jean Pied de Port (SJPP) Sunday afternoon with a few unexpected glitches but we dealt well with them, spent more money than planned and decided to be happy. We stayed at “Gite Azkorria” with Isabel & Alain, on Rua de la Citadelle. On the main street, across from the Camino Pilgrim’s Office. We loved it there!!

Then the day became VERY adventurous. An American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) friend arrived and mentioned about wanting to Walk up to Orisson (our 1st days Walk) to scope it out. I said, “I’ll go!!” It is a 5 mile Walk with a steep straight up 2300′ incline.

At 6pm, David and I took a nice Walk up to the Citadelle, a walled fort around the castle. We stopped at a Farmacia and got some Calcium Tablets. It is soooooo great to know I can get whatever I need while on The Camino, minus ZipLock Bags & SalonPas, pain relief patches.

It was a GREAT day – We are so HAPPY to be here. 😊😉

David Stewart WROTE:
As was mentioned in the last episode, Day 4 (4/11/16) was spent in the beautiful little town of St Jean Pied de Port. It is close to the French border with Spain and played an important role in the defense of the area from Spanish incursions from the 1600s onward. That is the reason that the large “Citadelle” is built on the high point above the town. There is also a gated wall encompassing the original town buildings. The streets are very narrow with cobblestone roadbeds. It would be easy to live here, as long as you could deal with the multitude of peregrinos who descend with backpacks, boots, and hiking poles each spring and continue to fall out of the sky until late in the fall. This is definitely a touristy town now, but it has retained its’ wonderful feeling of old France.

Now to Energizer Bunny. Another efriend arrived today and she and EB decided to take a stroll along the route we would be taking for real tomorrow. I decided not to take a stroll along the route that we would be taking tomorrow:). Well, 5 hours later the host of our gite knocked on the room door and in broken English, very, very, broken English, told me that EB was at the next gite in the mountains but don’t worry, she was okay and a car was bringing her back so she could do the same thing tomorrow! After two iterations of the explanation I finally got it. I have to wonder about those Seitchiks, if you know what I mean:).

Later we climbed up to the Citadelle again so we could see the big rain clouds building and then scampered back down to the gite before it came and drenched us. It was a serene day today.

CAMINO-Day #1- 4.12 Tuesday

Cities: St Jean to Orisson
Walked: 7:45-10:15am
2:45pm: hours- 2300′ incline
Steps: 11,000
-Miles: 5

Tuesday was our FIRST day of Walking the Camino. The first two days are the hardest.
👣SJPP to Orisson, France
👣Orisson to Roncesvalles, Spain

David started up to Orisson at 7:30am. Andrea Duncan and I started up at 8am.

It was a beautifully cool sunny day!!
It is a STEEP climb, 2300′ – with our BackPacks (Cathy: 13-15 lbs) (David: 18-20 lbs), but easier than last year.

The weather was beautiful until it started to drizzle/rain. But that also created some Rainbows.

Tomorrow should continue to be good weather for Walking OVER the Pyrenees.

There were about 30 Pilgrims and throughout the afternoon & communal dinner, we all got to know each other. It is an amazing experience. At the end of dinner we were promoted by Pantxika to say our name, where we are from and what are goals/plans were.

Since this is our 2nd time at Orisson and this communal environment, David and I realize some of the people in that might be life long friends and for sure Camino long friends as we see them off and on, over the next 45 days.

We slept in a dorm room with 3 Bunkbeds and 6 people. I person snored lightly.

I have been asked, “Are you Walking the SAME ROUTE, Camino Frances” as last April & May?”
The answer is, “YES.”
Last year, because of my Knee Problem, we had to Train from Leon to Ponferrado & then Bus to Sarria, missing many Towns & 130 miles. We were grateful to be able to continue Walking, but sad about the loss. At the time, David mentioned that we could go back and Walk that piece. It was a sweet thought, an option.
Then as we started Walking again, from Sarria, he asked, “What do you think if we Walk the whole thing again?” I said, “YES!!” 

By the way, I am 63 and David is 70. Shhhh!! Don’t tell him I said that out loud.
The point is, YOU can do this too.
You choose your pace & your miles, per day. You can “Transport” your Backpack. I figure, “We are Walking across Spain!!!” So Transporting a Backpack is fair, if needed or desired!! 
And you decide where to start:

  • SJPP; before the Pyrenees
  • Pamplona; past the Pyrenees
  • Leon or Burgos
  • Sarria; the last 100 Kilometers

You chose by the time you have, fitness level for Walking over the Pyrenees, etc.

David Stewart WROTE:
Day 5 was the first real day of our 2016 Camino. We had a short hike from St Jean up to Orisson which is an albergue or gite about one third of the way over the pass into Spain. Five miles doesn’t sound like a big deal until the 1500 feet elevation gain is factored in. Then, it is a big struggle:). However, this year was a cakewalk compared to last year! It was cooler and I knew what to expect. We left St Jean at 7:40, got to Orisson at 10:20, and hung out with other pilgrims for the rest of the day. At our communal evening meal I mentioned my deceased friend Ian Kitchen from England who I met for the first time here last year. We had nothing in common but we definitely bonded. I wish he was here to welcome Cathy and I this year. He passed away last year on his 9th Camino. We miss him.

CAMINO-Day #2- 4.13 Wed

Cities: Orisson to Roncesvalles  to Burguete
Walked: 7:30-3pm – 30 min Lunch
7 hours- 2550′ incline
Steps: 30,000
-Miles: 12
TOTAL Miles: 17

BEST day ever, and HARD, cold, WINDY but NO RAIN.
We Walked OVER the Pyrenees; from France to Spain!! Happy am I.

David Stewart WROTE:
We left Orisson at 7:40AM and arrived at Burguete at 3PM, 2 miles past Roncesvalles. The first 8 miles was a steady uphill grind with a 2500 foot elevation gain. The WIND was a headwind for most of the way and was blowing at 20mph with gusts that almost blew us off our feet. It was cool to start and cold at the higher elevations. With the wind factored in it was definitely uncomfortable. The two miles after the summit was steep downhill. All those aching leg muscles really got a workout on the way down. We dropped about 3000 feet in those two miles. The last two miles into Burguete were blessedly flat, thank God.

The hostal we are in, Hostal Burguete, has been here for many years. It’s claim to fame is that Ernest Hemingway stayed here many times. He loved the Pamplona festival of the Running of the Bulls and stayed in Burguete which is only 25 miles away. It takes us two days to walk there and he drove in less than an hour:). His initials are carved in the piano in the downstairs bar. After tonight Hostal Burguete will have two claims to fame, Ernest, and now David the Pilgrim:).

Oh yes, we bought lightweight ponchos for rain. It started spitting a bit so we donned them in the horrendous wind and mine tore completely up within 2 minutes. Cathy’s did last until we reached the pass and then gave up the ghost. That was not one of our better purchases:). Luckily the rain held off but now we have to buy two new ponchos as soon as we reach an outdoor store, probably in Pamplona. Amazon Prime don’t work to well over here:).

Tomorrow is a 12 mile walk to Zubiri.
Buenos Tardes, David

CAMINO-Day #3- 4.14 Thursday

Cities: Burguete to Espinal to Viskarret to Linzoain to Zubiri
Albergue Palo de Avellano: Itzar
Walked: 7:34am-1pm – 15 min cafe
5 hours- 750′ incline: Up/Down
Steps: 22,000
-Miles today: 11
👣TOTAL Miles: 28
For my Camino friends, here is a Pilgrim UPDATE:
– Day 2: 4/13 Wednesday
200+ Pilgrims in Roncesvalles.
– Day 3: 4/14 Thursday
Zubiri, has Pilgrims mingling around outside but the Albergues are not full.
Our Hospitalero said, “There are not more people than usual. She thinks the Jubilee Year of Mercy will not compare to the Holy Years, in the past.”

It was another glorious day On The Camino!!

We have met, talked to & walked with, people from 17 COUNTRIES so far; Brazil, Spain, United States, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, France, Germany, Austria, Norway, South, Korea, England, Holland, Argentina.

I am about as HAPPY as can be.
– I am enjoying the people/pilgrims.
– I love the daily exercise and the feeling of my leg muscles after 5-6 hours of Walking.
– I adore being outside and Walking through towns/villages of Spain.
– I love being with David.
– Walking for a 2nd time is sooooo comforting as EVERYthing is sooooo familiar, and we reminisce about last year’s Camino; our friends, places we sat & ate, seeing the familiar countryside again, walking up a hill & knowing it will end, etc.

A “Walking Pilgrimage” is a wonderful way to spend 2 months.

Hasta mañana.

David Stewart WROTE:

We left Burguete at 8AM after a brief stop at a cafe to take a picture of the place my friend Ian was sitting last year on April 16:). We walked 11 miles from 8 to 1 PM with a 15 minute stop for cafe con leche and other personal reasons:). The day was cool, mostly cloudy, and the path was a good bit of up and down with an eventual loss of altitude of about 250 meters. The last 3 kilometers was steeply down along a narrow muddy track of broken shale tilted edgewise. It was very difficult traversing it.

Zubiri is a combination industrial town and town catering to the Camino pilgrims. About 500 people live here. There is a huge magnesium plant on the outskirts of town. We will pass it as we leave on the way to Pamplona tomorrow. There is also a small outdoor store here so we will be doing some shopping for rain gear since our ponchos were such a failure yesterday. In the case of those ponchos, “You get what you pay for.”, is definitely true:).