Camino Day 3 (April 7): Larrasoaña to Pamplona; 18 km (11 miles)

I stayed up too late writing a post last night. When I headed up to the “dorm room,” the other 5 (I was wrong when I wrote last night; there were only a total of 6 beds in the room and only this morning did I find out that there was another woman in there with us, that Julio–a Spaniard with whom I had walked for a while during the day–was sleeping directly under me, and that, while I was thinking that there were several Koreans in the bunks, if that is the case, then one of them was dreaming in an English that he couldn’t begin to speak properly. Case in point: I hadn’t yet fallen asleep when I heard a loud male voice (in our room) yelling “Help! Help! Stop doing that!” Our door opened and two faces peered in. My glassses were off so I couldn’t begin to identify them, but by then the perceived emergency seemed to be over. “Someone was having a bad dream,” I told the inquiring heads. “It seems to be over now.” All was quiet again. Except my mind which was replaying the beauty of the day and having trouble settling down after the effort of getting day clothes off, night clothes on, a couple of devices placed on chargers, etc., all by flashlight, and trying to be a quiet as possible. Apparently I eventually did fall asleep, as the 6:00 am alarm definitely startled me this morning. Time to go at it again.

A net bag with our clean laundry in it had been set outside our door. Great! Only a matter of pulling it out of the bag and putting on every stitch of it. In the dark. Ah, but it didn’t take light to feel that the clothes were still damp. Quite! Thank you, Barb, for ringing the bell outside our hostess’s private quarters to ask if she could put the clothes back in the dryer. That delayed our hoped -for 7:30 start time, but by 8:07 am Ginny had joined us and we headed off, Pamplona bound.

Today marked the third time in my life that I was so bound. Yes, the third! My first trip to the famed running-of-the-bulls city was back in July of 1967. I was participating then in a 7-week summer program in Spain. Our first month was spent in the northern city of Santander where, with other students from Clarke College, I was enrolled in some intensive Spanish classes. At some point during the second week of July, during the sanfermines (the world-famous week of raucous debauchery when testosterone-overloaded males want to prove how macho they are, but which was, at one time, a week in which to celebrate the patron saint of the area, Saint Fermín, thus the term sanfermines)… as I was saying, at some point during that week our program rented a bus so that we could experience the event first hand. (Yes, it is as wild as they say it is. The air reeks of wine and sweat and the strands of garlic that many wear around their necks along with the iconic red handkerchiefs contrasted against their white shirts. It was an eye-opener for my then 17-year-old self.)

Second time in Pamplona was at the start of this trip, so I’m doing a bit of backtracking here. Barb, Ginny, and I arrived in Madrid last Wednesday, April 3. First item on the agenda, after changing some money, was to make our way by bus–ah! We’re on O’Donnell Street where I lived back in 1968-69! There’s the Parque Retiro! There’s the Prado!–to the Atocha train station (quite beautiful, with gardens [and pigeons] bringing in a touch of the outside) to catch the train for a ride of a bit over 3 hours north to Pamplona. We saw some countryside a bit reminiscent of Southern California, but we also caught a few winks.

(Permit me another aside before you’ve totally forgotten the Atocha train station. Back in ’68-69, there on O’Donnell Street, I had a roommate from Venezuela. Rosalba was dating a madrileño named Jesús. Long story short, they married at some point, maybe in the mid-70s. Unfortunately, Rosalba’s was a very premature death. I lost all contact with Jesús… until this past fall.

“Of course I remember you,” he responded (in Spanish) to the email I sent. He sent me photos of his family and caught me up a bit on his life and times since we had last seen each other in 1972 and assured me that he would enjoy spending some time showing me around a transformed Madrid if my schedule would permit it. Once he knew the schedule of our departure for Pamplona, he was able to time a visit to Atocha for a “meet and greet.” Perhaps he is not to be believed, but I didn’t mind hearing that I “hadn’t changed a bit” in the intervening years. It was a short visit, perhaps 25 minutes at most, but it awakened some memories and it was a fun treat to see him. End of this aside.)

But back to this trip’s first visit to Pamplona. Thanks to the marvels of the internet, we knew how to catch Bus #16 from the train station to Beds4U, our “motel” for the night. Clean and totally adequate. Though we’d been given some solid recommendations for seeing the sights of the city and catching a good meal, we opted to eat somewhere closer to the motel and save our visiting for morning.

We’re now rising on Thursday, April 4, with time to “play” until catching the bus for the almost two-hour ride over the same mountains we’d begin crossing by foot during the following couple of days. Playtime could begin as soon as we took care of business.

Item #1: send a package back to the States to lighten a load. (Not mine, but I’m not going to tattle.). That was a huge laugh fest as the post mistress inquired, with me interpreting, if the package would have anything “liquid, perishable….” (you know the rubric). By the time she insisted we remove half of the things that were going to be sent home (tush wipes, alcohol prep pads, a sewing repair kit with a needle in it, a couple other toiletries with alcohol) the box was no longer going to carry much weight, but it got sent with a few items of clothing and someone’s back and body were going to thank her for lightening the load.

#2 item of business: buy some SIM cards. Easy peasy, right? That’s what we’d read in a few Camino forums. “Don’t just buy one from a drug store,” Kevin had warned me, totally dubious that I would manage this technological feat. “And make sure they install it and have it working before you complete the transaction.” The expression on his face said it all! So of course I had to make it work. Up to the sixth floor of Spain’s most noted department store we went, and… a good hour, some Google research, several phone calls, and lots of frustration later the nice woman had us ready to leave with our 5g of data and mere 15 minutes of phone. But hey, for the bargain price of 10 euros and, with luck, we can add minutes. Poor lady, though. As we were leaving she commented: “I’m going to tell the next person who asks for one of these cards that we don’t have any.” (“Especially,” she might have added, “if it’s a helpless American.”)

Item #3 on our to-do list: purchase some hiking poles (not having been able to bring ours as carry-on luggage). This task was the easiest of the day. We had the address of the Caminoteca store which is a handy stopover for pilgrims who have realized they are missing some important items. The store is located within sight of the Cathedral, which, in turn, is right along the Camino route.

In the end, our errands gave us a chance to walk some of the streets in the “old part” of the city. We saw fountains and monuments typical of European cities, saw some of the streets involved in the annual running of the bulls, walked around the outside of the Cathedral and admired the view from along some of the old city walls. Our watches told us it was time to be heading to the bus station to catch the 2:30 coach to St. Jean. It was disappointing not to see more, but we knew we’d be back in just a few days.

Out came the phones, then, to help us navigate to the bus station which we had spied that morning as we took a local bus into town from our hotel. I think we had a paper map out as well, one we had picked up that morning at the hotel.

“¿Qué buscas?” (What are you looking for?) came the voice, the question having been uttered by a 40-something male with a full graying beard. Soon we were following the gent. Well, Ginny and Barb were following the fellow with whom I was engaged in a rather deep and complicated conversation. Ginny was making sure that our meanderings were indeed bringing us closer to our desired destination, while both of them were wondering what I had gotten them into. Truly, I had just expected this man to point us in the right direction, not to accompany us. Just get us around a corner and then send us on our way. But no, I got the full story. Turns out he wasn’t Spanish at all, but had arrived from Syria about 4 months ago. His Spanish was limited, as was his English, but from the tears streaming down his face, I tend to believe that he was telling the truth about leaving his wife and children back in Syria, about his difficult travels, about not having had word of his family in six months. And, finally, telling it very sheepishly but, still, not mincing any words, about being hungry. I couldn’t locate the lunch bocadillo I’d made for myself at the motel’s breakfast buffet–losing or at least temporarily misplacing things: story of my life on this trip–but I did find my apple which I gave him along with a few of our newly acquired euros. We’re we “taken”? Yes! We were taken to the bus station which is where we needed to be. And I had an “encounter” and a chance to listen to someone’s story. Priceless, in a way, no?

Now here’s the interesting thing: you think that I’m never going to get around to talking about today which is, of course, the real reason you opened this post in the first place. If you’ve been patient enough to get this far, then here, finally, is a bit of a reward. Today, after a short (only 11 miles today!) hike into Pamplona, we found ourselves sitting on a bench in front of the Cathedral, eating left-over bread and chicken and cheese from last night’s dinner. As I’m stuffing my face, I hear Barb say, without great enthusiasm, I might add, “Oh, here’s our guide from the other day.” Indeed there he was, and, upon seeing us, his face lit up in recognition. We greeted him back, but, for better or for worse, we offered him neither euros nor food, and he continued on his way. We didn’t tell him we had to locate the hostel where we had made a reservation for tonight.

Story not quite over. A few hours after we arrived at the Aloha hostel, in comes a pilgrim from Ireland, Maura by name. She was so happy to finally have finished the day’s trek. “A Syrian guided me here, she informed us. “Big beard.” You’ve got to give him credit, don’t you? Certainly more creative than standing on a street corner holding a cardboard sign. Why shouldn’t he be rewarded for his service? Clever job creation on his part, says I.

It won’t surprise you that I’m really thinking how nice it will be to climb into bed. The last really good sleep I had was right here in Pamplona at Beds4U back on April 4. I’m due for another, for sure. Going to finish this rapidly. Really. It’s a promise.

Today’s gifts on the trail (as they occur to me)

  • Lots of trail time (and almost no street walking until we reached Pamplona)
  • Roosters crowing as we made our way through mist-filled hills
  • Declaring “quiet time” and keeping to it for a good stretch of our morning
  • Fewer than 100 floors of climbing today
  • Old stone homes, old stone bridges, old stone churches
  • The “best pastry” ever to tide us over until reaching Pamplona
  • A snack along the trail early on in the day where “Dan” offered croissant, fresh fruit, tortilla de patatas, good coffee, juices, etc. Neat: there was a photo of the stand’s proprietor (Dan) with Martin Sheen, taken at some point during the filming of The Way (movie in which Sheen plays the part of a peregrino). It was a fun stop.
  • Admiring the suburbs as we approached Pamplona, seeing people promenading in their Sunday best, noting some extremely nice houses, AND enjoying a hike when raindrops were almost non-existent (though we put on rain jackets and covered our packs just to be on the safe side)
  • Seeing cyclists on both roads and dedicated cycling paths; these were not cycling pilgrims (though we have seen a few of them) but rather folks out to enjoy a Sunday bike ride, some casual riders and others obviously “the real deal”

Today’s gifts in town (in what will most likely be random order)

  • That chicken, cheese, and bread upon arrival in town. Something warm might have been good, something indoors, but we were hungry and what’s not to like about using up leftovers?
  • Discovering that our hostel is quite nice. Could be warmer, but I’ll soon be crawling under a thick comforter that I trust will do the job.
  • Here at the hostel: one of the volunteer workers (I gather he helps out here and gets free room and board) really likes to cook. He transformed the pile of fresh vegetables we had seen on the kitchen counter into the best-smelling stew. “Do you want to try it?” He didn’t need to ask twice. It was delicious! Apparently on Sundays he makes a big pot of something and shares it with the pilgrims/guests who arrive early.
  • What with showering, looking at tomorrow’s route, getting clothes washed, sampling rice-and-veggie stew, securing a spot for sleeping tomorrow, visiting with Maura from Ireland, and thinking how nice it might be to just curl up and do nothing, I declared that I was determined to go out exploring and if anyone wanted to go with me, they had three minutes. Thus it was that about fifteen minutes later we made it back to the streets. It might have been too late to tour the Cathedral, but we enjoyed
    Walking in several parks (the Ciudadella and the Parque de la Taconera
    Observing how many people were out walking and playing and meeting up with friends to visit and have a bite or a coffee; the city was vibrant with motion
    Just as we were about to pass the Iglesia de San Lorenzo, the church bells began to peel and the faithful were flowing in. Ginny and I joined their stream for this 6:00 pm Mass. Good music, good acoustics, good homily about refraining from judgment and being forgiving of the faults of others because we all have plenty of our own. I haven’t done any research on the church, but it had lots of side chapels, one of which was the chapel of San Fermín, so I have a feeling this is an important church for the locals. We lit some candles. For ourselves. For you.
    The stew was wearing off and so Barb had scouted the streets in the vicinity of San Lorenzo and when we emerged from church she led us to a cafe called El Peregrino (remember, that’s “pilgrim” in English) where Barb had some real hot chocolate that she claimed was velvety and lovely, while Ginny and I both chose steamed milk. Couldn’t drink without eating something, so we had to order some sweets, right?

And now… it’s past time to head to bed. Yeah, a lower bunk tonight. (It was challenging to find the ladder to climb into the upper last night in the pitch dark.)

Be it resolved: tomorrow’s post will be considerably shorter. No worries. Hey, thanks for reading, for commenting, for praying for us, for being understanding about not getting many (any?) personal responses. There are all too few hours in the day.

Will see if I can add a few pictures before I post this. No promises! Night all!

Ginny and Dan. Look closely and you’ll see the photo of Dan and Martin Sheen.