Day 4 (April 8): Pamplona to Puente la Reina (29.5 km; 18.3 miles)
Hey, it wasn’t the sleep I’d experienced in Pamplona four or five days ago, but not bad. Not bad at all. And could have been better –as in “longer”–if I hadn’t written such a long post last night. My bad. I’ll learn. I returned to our room as quiet as a mouse so as not to disturb Barb and Ginny and the male cyclist Jaimie (not a typo… although I’m not proofing these blogs so I’m sure you’re having to deal with some typos along the way..) who has been making his way from England to southern Spain, averaging about 100 miles per day. His plan, similar to ours, was to be up by around 6:00 am). The other bunks in the room, the top ones, were empty. Hey, lucky me: I removed my clothing and hung it over the bars of the ladder leading to the bunk over mine.
Barb’s alarm and mine sounded almost simultaneously. Soon I glimpsed Ginny trying to catch up on some email before beginning the packing ritual. I fumbled in the dark, removing clothing items one by one from the adjacent ladder and returning them to the body from which they’d been peeled the night before. By 6:30 Jaimie was stirring and it felt like the time was right to turn on the lights and trade our whispers in for morning voices. About 15 minutes later I was startled by a voice that gently asked: “Is it OK if I move this aside?” What?!*. The question came from a young woman leaning over the bunk above mine! She was gesturing to my fleece vest which I had yet to put on. Apparently this young woman from Macedonia, in Pamplona for business, had arrived while I was blogging in the lounge last night. Barb and Ginny were aware of her existence, but I hadn’t had a clue. (It did explain, however, the one time during the night when I heard noise that sounded like it came from above me, but which I figured had to be Barb in the bed across from me.) Fortunately this girl had not had the need to negotiate the ladder during the night or who knows how my clothes might have altered her descent.
Self-serve breakfast included in the 15 euro price of our lodging. There was toast, marmalade, juices, fruit, corn flakes. Much more sensible that the elaborate breakfast buffets we were served in Austria and the Czech Republic a couple of years ago. Totally adequate, but nothing to write home about. And yet I have, haven’t I?
Loved, loved, loved heading out during the morning bustle of a good-sized city: folks on their way to work, students on their way to school. Life resuming after a day of respite. 47 degrees? A bit of rain? No matter. For the first day on this trip, I started off with a rain jacket instead of a winter coat. AND: I remembered from our meanderings the evening before that we needed to make two rights, then head towards the brown building, then towards the bike path at the Ciudadela park, then keep our eyes open for the yellow conch shells and arrows that mark the Camino de Santiago. (I only mention this because I feel I am getting the reputation among my travel mates of being totally incompetent when it comes to knowing where I am at any given moment. I’ve not only been losing/misplacing everything I brought with me–which wasn’t much!–but I’ve also been guilty of being clueless about where I am. But the way I figure it, why should three of us wrestle with maps, be they paper or electronic, when one would suffice. I save my limited logistical abilities for when they are needed. Case in point: I’m the one nominated to call ahead for reservations in case my Spanish gives us an “in” at the “inn.”
I’m proud to say that we passed right by the bakeries, with barely a second glance. Two of us passed by the University of Navarra’s campus with just a glance. We were surprised when Barb came up behind us as we were finally exiting town. She had left earlier at her brisk pace, but she had taken the time to make a quick spin through the campus.
I’ll mention this: pilgrims stand out with our backpacks, walking poles, and strange languages. Sometimes we’re carrying maps. We were helped three times as we left town, people pointing, gesturing, opening car windows and indicating, either verbally or by body language, the route we should take. The markings in Pamplona were also excellent and reliable. Great infrastructure!
And finally we were in the countryside. Barb had whizzed ahead, leaving space for Ginny and me, with the city traffic noise behind us now, to do a bit of catch up on our life and times since we’d last been together the previous August. Catch up interspersed with the suggestion, sometime by Ginny, sometimes by me, that we move into a period of quiet reflection.
Until this one or that one happened by. My God, I think Ginny knows half of the pilgrims who began walking from St. Jean the same day we did. Hugs for Michelle, for Jose, for Christina, Suzanne, Oliver. I’m in awe at her ability to associate names with faces and greet each one so warmly and affectionately. (Then there’s me…. Two minutes after being excited to meet the Irish woman named Maura–and telling her that we had given our daughter that name–I asked her: “Remind me of your name.” That’s what lack of sleep does to an already poor memory…. I’m wondering if I need a C-PAP like Ginny’s to improve my memory….). Truly, it’s fun to watch her in action!
The walk, morning AND afternoon, was up and down (160 floors by Fitbit’s count), sometimes on unbelievably rocky paths. Mist in the hills was ever-present and beautiful in its own right. Many near 360-degree views, small villages off in the distance, houses seemingly clustered close to very old churches. It was a joy to pass through the villages with their stone houses and narrows streets. From one end to the next: a mere 5-minute walk. Except when there was a little store selling fruit, snacks, Camino mementos, and café con leche from a dispenser not all that different from one that would sell pop.
A quick refreshment and on our way again.
One of the photographic highlights of the Camino is the wrought-iron representation of medieval pilgrims at the top of Alto de Perdón (at an elevation of 2,590 ft., the highest of our day’s journey, a steep climb up and an even steeper and rockier one on the way down). If you’ve seen many photos of the Camino, you’ve seen photos of these sculptures, most likely with the valley spreading out way below in all its glory…. Alas! No need to dally at that spot today. A quick photo and then we were on our way as the wrought-iron peregrinos and the modern-day flesh-and-blood ones were surrounded by mist. Valley below? If you say so.
The downhill walk called for an adjustment of the walking shoes, a tightening of their laces in hopes of keeping the toes from creeping forward in the shoes. Oops, one of us thought such tightening wasn’t necessary. About a third of the way down she had a change of heart, but by then the first blister in nine months and some 900 miles of hiking made its entry into the world…. Some people are slow learners. Need I say more? (I had had every intention of practicing blister treatment during my months of training, but I never had the opportunity or need. I don’t suppose this will be the last one of the trip, but hopefully it’s been caught before much damage has been done.)
One more incident from the morning must be reported. At some point after we left Pamplona and were no longer walking on pavement, Ginny wanted to stop to remove the rubber tips on her poles; the unadorned stakes would provide a better grip on the otherwise uneven gravel. Sounded like a good idea, so copycat that I am, I decided to do the same. One tip off with a big tug. Then working on the other which was very resistant to my efforts, and then: sh*t! Not only the tip but the whole bottom third of my pole ended up in one hand, the remaining two-thirds in the other. Nurse Ginny, knowing I’m no good at fixing things, took charge… and before you know it… that pole was history. What do you want for under 9 euros? Nothing for it but to find the next garbage can. Pilgrim’s rule: never carry more than what you need and will use.
Per prior agreement, we turned on cellular data a bit after 12:00 to check in on each other. Barb had forged ahead. Just as Ginny and I entered the small village of Uterga, ready to look for food, we heard from Barb who was finishing up her lunch at the only eating establishment in town. Funny: outside this bar/restaurant was a vending machine filled with Compeed (blister treatment) and pain pills. I bet they make a fortune!
“Hey, Katy,” Ginny tells me, “they’ve got a tortilla española over there with green peppers. Want to split one?” And then she trails off to the bathroom. I mosey over to the display counter. I see a couple of slices of “regular” tortilla and one huge tortilla (six servings or porciones) with some pepper slices on top. “Wow,” I thought, “is Ginny proposing we buy that whole thing? That’d be way too much!”
When she returned from the bathroom, I asked for clarification. “Oh, no, not the whole thing, just a slice. We can share a slice.” Are you kidding me?! Ginny has been hanging around me for 60+ years and hasn’t realized what a big appetite I have? “No way, Ginny. I don’t know about you, but I want a heck of a lot more than half a slice,” I declared, setting things straight. In the end, we each enjoyed our own slice, plus the bread that came with it, plus half an apple each. We needed our strength for…
For the detour, of course. By adding just 3.1 kilometers to our route, we could visit the basilica of Santa María de Eunate, a 12th century Romanesque church considered to be one of the gems of the Camino. A gem indeed! This plain, unadorned church served as quite a contrast to the ornate one in which we attended mass yesterday. Lovely in its simplicity. Amazing to think that this spot was serving pilgrims’ spiritual and corporal needs eight or nine hundred years ago. We lit some candles, said some prayers, took some photos, and did this unusual thing, upon the advice of a Portuguese couple we met there. Tradition has it that a pilgrim is to walk the exterior of the church three times counterclockwise, then the interior “courtyard” or outer porch of the church the same number of times, but clockwise, all the while giving thanks. And so, of course, not wanting to buck the tradition as it has been passed down (and, no doubt, greatly altered as people speaking different language try to communicate to others the procedure…), we did just that.
Upon returning to the office where we had left our backpacks during our tour of this unique eight-sided (but, really, tiny) church, I spotted some poles in the lobby. The blue pair, the reeptionist told me, belonged to the young Spaniard who was visiting the church, but the single red one? She didn’t know. Must have been left there by a pilgrim. Left there alone, to serve no particular purpose? We couldn’t have that, could we? So that it could live out its life in a useful fashion, we had to bring it along with us. The morning’s problem resolved so much more easily than we had any reason to expect. Onward!
Until finally reaching our hostel for the night. Super nice! We’re not done with the large hostels, but we’re finding that for just a few more euros, the private ones really have some fine amenities. I can’t speak for the rest of Europe or, for that matter, the rest of Spain, but these private hostels on the Camino have their act together (or almost). I’m very impressed by the bunk beds which have built-in or clip-on lights at the head as well as plugs to serve as charging stations. Some of the beds also have partial curtains or, in the case of this hostel in Puente la Reina, pull-down shades. There are cubbies in which to put valuables, gathering spaces, very clean bathrooms in which one person can shower while another, in total privacy, can attend to business. Tonight, in this four-bed room, we are just three. (Since it is already after midnight, I doubt that I’ll find someone in the bunk above me when I wake up, but after this morning’s experience, I’ll probably check before I start banging around in the morning.)
One of the hardest things for me on this trip is to arrive in a new town and, instead of checking it out, having to take care of business. “Business” means making a bit of a plan for the next day (as in a reservation for the night; the Camino is more popular each year, and people are starting their hikes earlier in the spring or later in the fall to avoid the summer crowds. If one wants to be spontaneous, explore and take detours during the day, then… seems best to be assured of a spot to rest when day is done. Business also means to shower, decide which clothe need to be washed and hung to dry… and…. maybe check email, ideally connect with folks back home if the timing is right, then wait until your travel mates have done all of the above. Some would think a nap would be welcome, too.
Me? What I really want to do is dump my backpack and head right out to explore the town. But clothes and hair washed at 9:00 or 10:00 pm are going to be problematic come morning.
Finally, by 7:15 or so, we were out the door and happy to discover that our hostel is just up the street from the most recognizable feature of this town and the one from which the town’s name is derived. Puente la Reina means “the Queen’s Bridge,” and refers to the 12th century bridge named after the wife of Sancho III. I’m quoting here from John Brierley’s Camino guidebook:
[Doña Mayor] commanded the magnificent Romanesque bridge to be built to support the safe movement of the increasing number of medieval pilgrims who joined the route at this stage from the Camino Francés and camino Aragonés.
It’s an impressive bridge with its six arches spanning the Arga River. We tried our hand at taking a few evening photos before our stomachs cried “enough already” and we headed down Calle Mayor (Main Street) in search of evening vittles. I tell you in all earnestness: even a short walk on Calle Mayor makes me think how wonderful it might be to just stay put in this little town (population 2,500) for a few weeks. It absolutely “reeks” medieval with the massive stone blocks from which the houses are constructed, and the massive wooden front doors with unique knockers. Hope I can attach some photos.
And if all meals in this town might be like the one we had tonight. 7th heaven, for sure! We chose a restaurant that had 3-course meals, plus bread and wine, for 11 euros. I say chose: it was really the first one we came to. That’s how hungry we were. The waiter looked at me a bit surprised when I said that we wanted to order an additional salad to divide between the three of us (an addtional 7 euros). “Oh, but you can order a salad for your 1st course,” he told me. “And it’s a big salad. Look over there,” he added as he pointed to another customer’s plate. It was big. “We’re really hungry,” I replied, “and we want other things for our first course.” So be it; the customer is always right, right? Besides, Americans are pretty crazy. Surely those were his thoughts.
If I never have a better meal than tonight’s while I’m in Spain, consider me totally satisfied! We finished every bit of that salad! We enjoyed pork, lamb, and fish, all served with fried potatoes. A basket of bread (which we did not finish). The menu said the meal included choice of beer or wine. We figured a glass each, but the waiter uncorked a bottle of local wine for us and we didn’t want him to have to waste any. It was good. And then, a wide choice of desserts. Flan for me, very rich looking chocolate cake for Ginny and Barb. With tip, 15 euros each.
In the morning we’ll part company for the time being. With my mini-blister and a few threats on Ginny’s heal, we’re not keen on the 18 miles Barb has planned for tomorrow; we’ll stop about 5 miles short of that. Hopefully catch up/reunite down the “way” a piece. If not, though, we’re all pleased to be reminded that we are each doing “our Camino” and had agreed from the get-go that a sense of freedom to do what works for each of us is paramount. Three can laugh harder than two, though, so Barb will be missed, no question. WhatsApp doesn’t cover all the bases, but it will be a way to stay in touch.
I promised shorter. I didn’t deliver. Oops! Tomorrow will give me another chance to practice brevity. But this is also true: the Camino experience doesn’t make brevity easy!
Postscript: Did you notice that in spite of the title of yesterday’s post, I never mentioned Hemingway? And here is this post, titled “What rain?” Did I even mention today’s weather? I started this post so long ago that I don’t even remember. For the curious: 47 degrees and very light rain when we began walking today. It was the first morning I started out with my rain jacket rather than with the winter puffy jacket I fortunately brought along. The light rain fell on and off for a couple of hours, maybe. Not a problem at all. At one point in the afternoon I actually put on my sunglasses, though distant horizons spoke of some wicked weather that never arrived. So far so good as far as weather goes. Pretty perfect for hiking.
With a bit of luck, some photos will show up here!
Ginny with a fellow from England. He is 76 years old and is on the Camino for the 17th time!
Sorry! Too slow. Maybe tomorrow…..