Camino de Santiago - Navarre - Getting to Know You

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September 13th 2016
Published: September 19th 2016
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7 September 2016 Wednesday. Weather: Blazing hot in the high 90´s Distance from Pamplona to Cizur Menor: 7.1 km or 4.4 miles

I caught the 7:30 AM train from Barcelona Sants, arriving in Pamplona at 11:17 AM. Here I would begin my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. When planning my pilgrimage, I debated whether to spend the night in Pamplona or start my walk right away. In the end I decided to walk the 7 kilometers to Cizur Menor where I had reservations at the highly rated Albergue (hostel) de Maribel Roncal...they care for perigrinos (pilgrims) blistered feet...not that I would need help having just started the walking part of my Camino. And besides I was anxious to get started! I figured the walk to Cizur Menor would take two hours, which would leave me enough time to see Pamplona and get to the albergue by mid afternoon. However, when I called to confirm my reservation the evening before, Maribel advised me to take a taxi from the train station to the albergue since it was so hot and difficult to find my way by walking. Never one to turn down expert advice, I got to the albergue at noon. Maribel let me in before the noon opening, told me where to put my shoes, and then showed me how to lace them up the following morning...with my heels firmly against the back of my shoes so I wouldn't get blisters going up and down the Alto De Perdon. The next order of business after claiming my single bed under a window which I opened wide was to take a shower. I then washed the clothes I wore that day and hung them to dry. This would be my routine for every day on the Camino. I then relaxed a bit in the garden and talked to Guy from Leuven, Belgium, near where we used to live, and Colette from Holland. They had just met and I could sense some attraction between them. They would be the first members of my extended Camino family. I then had the Pilgrim´s lunch, a three course dinner provided at low cost to pilgrims along the Camino, at Asador El Tremendo across the street with roommates Gaylord and Ruby from Sydney.

At 3:30 PM, figuring incorrectly that this was after the heat of the day, I caught the bus into town. Pamplona was founded by the Roman general Pompeoalo. During the Middle Ages the town was divided by walls into five sub-communities. Each ethnic community spoke different languages and had different laws; and needed a barrier to keep from fighting each other. Pamplona is the capital of Navarre, the Basque homeland. The Basque are among the oldest people groups in Europe who speak a very ancient language unrelated to other European languages. They stopped Charlemagne from conquering the Iberian Peninsula, and the Moors from conquering the north of Spain. They are fiercely independent; with the ETA terrorists fighting for independence from Spain until a cease fire in 2011. Pamplona is best known for the Fiesta de San Fermines and the running of the bulls popularized in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." I read the book in preparation for my time in Pamplona.

My first stop was the bull fighting stadium with the bust of Hemingway at the entrance. Soon I ran across my first scallop shell embedded in the pavement. It was an exciting moment...I was now a perigrino (although I became a perigrino the moment I walked out my door in Woodland Park CO). Now I could wish others I passed a buen Camino (have a good walk) without raising eyebrows. This moment was tinged with some sadness as I missed Bonnie, my faithful dog walking companion, who walked those many miles with me while I trained for this pilgrimage. Then I stopped by the pilgrim shop, Caminoteca, to pick up some last minute things like a walking stick with rubber tip (which lasted all of one day)and an adaptor plug. My next stop was the Catedral Santa Maria el Real, a gothic structure built in the 15th century. At this point I wasn't cathedral'ed out so enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny. Here I picked up my first sello (stamp) in my credencial, the passport that would allow me to stay at albergues and prove that I had walked the Camino, although I only had to walk the last 100 km to receive the Compostela in Santiago.

And then at 5 PM I was off to Cizur Menor, passing the massive walls of the Citadel and the Navarre University. I stopped to talk to Renee from Maryland, a fourth year humanities major at the university. Then it was on to Cizur Menor where the famous battle was fought between Muslim King Aigolando and Charlemagne. Cizur Menor was also the headquarters of the Order of the Hospitalers of Saint John of Malta, the Templars, who established a monastery here in 1135. The Templars guarded pilgrimage routes to the most holy places of Christendom, with Jerusalem of most importance, followed by Rome and then Santiago. I was to see the remains of many Templar castles, churches, and hospitals over the next four weeks. I would also walk on Roman roads and across their bridges, in the footsteps of the Apostles James and Paul, and a million pilgrims, including kings and queens, popes, and St. Francis, who all trod this way for over the last thousand years. We all were walking just as Christ and His disciples had, and I was hoping and praying that by also walking I would slow down the pace of life and fill the hours with both contemplation and fellowship.

I returned to the Maribel Roncal at 7 PM and was invited by Michelle, a Canadian living in Maine, to join her and other pilgrims for dinner at the Asador El Tremendo . I told them I would be there as soon as I took a shower. So I joined Michelle, Sharmony from Glasgow, Scotland, Christy from Melbourne, Australia; and Guy, and Colette. They were my extended pilgrim family as, although we didn't walk together, I would run across them along the Way under amazing circumstances. I wasn´t hungry...only I ordered ice cream. They brought me a wrapped ice cream cone. Anyway, the others had ordered more than they could eat so offered me the remains of their meals. So the first thing I learned on the Camino was not to worry about eating off others´plates or drinking out of others water bottles, or sharing unisex dorm rooms, showers and toilets.

We returned to our room about 9:30 PM to find the lights out. I couldn´t find my daily meds or my Ambien or nasal spray so went without. This was also my first night experiencing snorers (not too much) and church bells from across the street ringing every quarter of the hour. Needless to say, I didn´t sleep at all. The ones who went to bed early also woke up at 5 AM and took an hour to get ready...rustling plastic bags and all!

Lesson learned: Prepare early the evening before for what you need over night and the next day. Departure should be quick. And if you use a baggage transfer service, put your 5 euros in the envelope provided and address it to the next location, making sure you have reservations there.

8 September 2016 Thursday. Weather: Cloudy and in the 70s with very light sprinkles...thank God. Distance from Cizur Menor to Uterga: 12.1 km or 7.5 miles over the Alto de Perdon

Today I would face my first challenge; the climb up the Alto de Perdon, with a 10-20%!s(MISSING)lope for the last two miles before the top. I had trained for this on the treadmills at the fitness center at home so was able to do this without too much huffing and puffing. As my training had been at 8500 feet, I hoped that this would give me an edge. I wasn't walking the full 800 km from St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, as I didn't have enough time, so I could be selective as to which stages to skip. By starting in Pamplona, some 70km into the walk, I was skipping the very difficult climb over the Pyrenees, which brings blisters, shin splints, and sore knees to many pilgrims. There would be other 10-20%!o(MISSING)r more slopes over two mountain ranges; some as long as 5 miles that I might have to conquer in the weeks ahead. As it turned out before the end of this day I wouldn't be walking up or down these mountain ranges.

After walking about 2 hours I stopped for ice cream and a Coke at a café in Zariquiegui, a small village with a 13th century Romanesque Iglesia de San Andres church which I recognized from the movie "The Way." This village was almost wiped out by the bubonic plague in the 14th century, and by its looks never recovered. From here I confronted that 20%!s(MISSING)lope. Just before the top of the Alto de Perdon I found the legendary fountain, the Fuente de Reniega (Fount of Renunciation), which referred to one of many pilgrim legends. This pilgrim was very thirsty. The Devil in disguise offered the pilgrim a drink if he renounced God. The pilgrim refused. The Devil left and St. James showed up with the much needed water, which he offered to the pilgrim in a scallop shell, the symbol of the Camino. I enjoyed hearing the many legends along the Way, not taking any of them too seriously.

The wind picked up as I approached the summit. It was appropriate that the Alto de Perdon ridge would have a line of windmills stretching into the distance. The power company has erected a sculpture with a line of pilgrims bent into the wind; also featured in "The Way.". An inscription on the sculpture says "Where the way of the wind meets the way of the stars." This sculpture is one of the iconic images along the Camino. I, of course, had to have a picture of myself leaning into the wind with the pilgrims.

From here the path down the other side of the Alto de Perdon is quite steep and rocky...very difficult!!! About two thirds of the way down I fell despite my walking knees just buckled due to the strain of having to break all the way. I met my first Camino angels, two girls from Belgium (I forget their names as I was in shock), who wiped the blood off the wounds on my hand and head and shared their water with me. Claude from Quebec soon arrived and helped me up. I had a badly sprained right ankle...the same ankle that I broke in 2013 just six weeks before going on my Silk Road trip around the world. He stayed with me until I reached the Albergue Camino de Perdon in Uterga, the first town down the mountain. Uterga is small town with maybe 200 residents. I arrived about 4 PM and managed to take a shower and wash some clothes.

When planning this trip, I deliberately planned for shorter walks to begin, with slightly increasing distances each day so that my body would become used to the daily walking. Many pilgrims walk longer distances and pay the price. I thought walking only 12 km seemed about right for the second day. It would have been except for my sprained ankle! I stayed at the aptly named Camino del Perdon, with its 16 beds in a dorm room. I shared the communal dinner with other pilgrims at 7 PM and then called it a day.

Lesson learned:

1. Don´t fall.

2. In addition to drinking plenty of water, also eat plenty of carbs as that is what your muscles need.

9 September 2016 Friday. Weather: Hot, but it didn´t matter because I wasn´t going anywhere. Distance covered: 0 km and miles

I decided to take a day to recouperate with an ice pack on my elevated ankle. I spent the day learning how to access my email and other applications on my cell phone using Wi-Fi and sent an email to my family about my condition. I also finished reading "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. And most importantly I talked to pilgrims who stopped either for the day or to have something to eat and drink.

I met Mike and Gloria, Canadians from Thunder Bay. I didn't remember them until I subsequently followed them on their pilgrimage as they posted daily on the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook (APOC) page. After returning home I received a message from them stating "I think we met on the Camino. My wife and I stopped at an albergue for our second breakfast. Not sure when. Not sure where. But it was early September. There was an American/Spanish guy there named Raoul. He told me later he helped you to get ice for your ankle. You were sitting in a corner by the door of the café with ice on your ankle. Then you got up and left. I was surprised that anybody with a swollen and sprained ankle could be so happy. That's gotta be you!" I confirmed that it was me. Wow, what an amazing connection, several months after my Camino. Raoul, Mike, and Gloria became my next Camino angels; Raoul for getting me ice for my ankle and Mike and Gloria for making the connection and letting me know that me being happy despite the circumstances had an impact on them.

I enjoyed another communal dinner. By now I was meeting so many people that I couldn´t keep up with their names. I remember Joan who would walk in front of me the next day and then stayed at the same albergue in Cirauqui. And I met Andy from England and Maria from Venezuela, now married and living in North Carolina...we would meet again many days later in Santa Domingo de la Calzada. Most I would never see again, but there we a few I would meet again in the most coincidental circumstances; including on the APOC Facebook page! Meeting pilgrims again was the miracle of the Camino. But at the time with my very much reduced pace, and everyone walking twice my speed and twice my distance, I had my doubts. I turned in without paying and addressing my baggage transfer service envelope.

Lesson learned:

1. Be cheerful in all circumstances.

2. Be ready for Plan B.

10 September 2016 Saturday. Weather: Extremely hot. Distance from Uterga to Cirauqui: 14.4 km or 8.9 miles

Having forgotten the baggage service details, I had to wait until 8:30 AM for the hospiteleria to show up and get 5 euros change. By 8:15 AM the first pilgrims, a couple from Arizona, arrived all the way from Pamplona. It had taken me all day to go the same distance! Who are these people! Once the hospiteleria arrived I addressed my baggage transfer envelop with five euros for delivery to the next albergue. I had café con leche with the couple from Arizona, and then followed in their dust.

Just beyond town I saw this steep rocky hill and very carefully started up. This is where I met
Albergue Maribel Roncal in Cizur MenorAlbergue Maribel Roncal in Cizur MenorAlbergue Maribel Roncal in Cizur Menor

My bed was on the right under the window
my next Camino angel. He was a farmer who informed me that I missed the turn at the bottom of the hill. He kindly drove me down the long hill and showed my where to go. It was a pleasant walk through Muruzabal and Obanos to Puente la Reina, named after an 11th century queen who built a six arched bridge over the Rio Arga so that pilgrims could avoid paying the extortionate prices charged by ferrymen.

Puente la Reina is a larger town, about 3,000 inhabitants, and a major junction on the Camino. Here the Camino Aragones that comes from Arles, France via the Somport Pass joins the Camino Frances. Other Caminos join the Camino Frances, with the Via de la Plata from Seville joining at Astorga, the Camino Primitivo from Santander joining at Melide (which I would eventually walk a part of from Lugo to Melide), and the Camino de Norte from Bilbao joining just before Santiago. I spent time visiting the Iglesia de Santiago, which has a famous statue of "the black Santiago."

I stopped for an early lunch of bacadillo with jamon y quesa and Coke. The hose on my Camelbak ended up on the sidewalk so I thought I couldn´t use it anymore that day. Obviously the heat had addled my brain as I could have washed it off and then refilled it in the washroom. So I left Puenta la Reine with a half full Camelbak, drinking out of the large opening along the way.

Herein lies another legend. In the middle of the bridge leaving the town was a niche with a statue of Mary. The legend recounts how a little bird would clean her face, which was considered a good omen for the town. One day a nobleman rode by and laughed at the little bird and mocked the townspeople for their devotion to the statue and the bird. He soon lost a battle which the townspeople believed was divine retribution.

I walked with Joan for awhile, but her pace was faster than mine so she continued on ahead. I would meet her again at the albergue that evening.

As I passed Spaniards walking in the other direction, they asked why I wasn´t taking a siesta...I could have asked them the same question...but they were right. I was soon out of water. Just before I reached the 20% mile long slope up to Maneru, I was literally dying of thirst. I prayed that someone would come by to provide me with some water. Within a minute, my next Camino angel arrived from the direction of Maneru. I asked him if he could spare some water. He filled my 1.5 liter bag Camelbak, over my objections that he wouldn't have enough for himself. He told me his car was just up ahead. His water was just enough for me to make it up the long hill to Maneru, another historic hilltop town. Why do all Camino towns have to be on high hills?! I couldn´t walk any further, despite dunking my head under the fountain, gulping down the cold water, and having an ice cold Coke. I had to make it to Cirauqui as my backpack was there, so the albergue hospiteleria called for a taxi which would take an hour to arrive from Puenta la Reina. While waiting I talked to Draza from the Czech Republic and then Matthew from Adelaide, Australia. Walking is very difficult, but talking with fellow pilgrims more than makes up for it.

I arrive in Cirauqui about 6 PM. Cirauqui is another hilltop medieval town with many architectural masterpieces, from the Mudejar city gates to the 13th century gothic Iglesias de San Roman. Arriving at the Maralotx albergue, I took a shower, washed my clothes, and joined fellow pilgrims in a communal meal in the bodega. Let´s see if I can remember all their names...Joan from Seattle who I met in Uterga, John, a biker from Bilbao, who was biking over 100 km per day, Jo from Australia, and Ion and her husband Hiroshi from San Francisco. I´m missing one name, but that´s amazing for me who can't remember names. I really worked to overcome this deficiency.

The hospiteleria recommended that tomorrow I not try to walk all the 14 km to Estella, but stop after 10.3 km in Villatuerta. I readily took her advice.

Lesson learned:

1. Ensure your baggage service envelope is completed the evening before. And make sure it is to a location you can get to that day.

2. A Camino saying roughly goes as "look up to God, around at nature and your fellow man, but don´t look down." By looking down that morning I had missed my way. I still haven´t figured out how I can walk on stony roads without looking down, but they sure are trouble! I also learned that looking around has its problems. Man and Nature are not all Good. The Camino is lined with thorn bushes. I use my right hand for my walking stick so walked on the left side of the path. Soon my left arm had many bloody scratches!

3. Always fill up your water at every opportunity although its great that the Camino provides angels with water.

4. Know your daily limit and walk early to try to get to your destination by lunch...take a siesta! Leaving Uterga at 9 AM was almost fatal as I had to walk during the hottest part of the day.

11 September 2016 Sunday. Weather: Blazing hot. Distance from Cirauqui to Villatuerta: 10.3 km or about 6 miles, less than my original plan to go just beyond Estella.

I departed at 7 AM in the dark with the other pilgrims to avoid the heat of the day. The road out of Cirauqui is an original Roman road with a restored Roman bridge. Pilgrims have been walking this way for a thousand years and Roman legions marched on these roads two thousand years ago. It's hard for me to grasp the history in which I was immersed. I thought it would be amazing to walk along a Roman road and across Roman bridges.

I was soon disabused of that notion. Roman roads in Spain have wide stone borders and between these borders are rock rubble; not the large smooth rock slabs that form the Apian Way in Rome. I´m not sure they built it this way 2000 years ago. Walking on the rubble when the borders weren´t there is terrible. And the bridges are even worse. Romans were supposed to be short, about 5'6" on average, but each step leading down to the bridge and up again had a rise of over a foot. I could make it down to the bridge using my stick for support and stability, but I didn´t have the leg strength to make it up the steps on the other end. I took off my backpack to lessen the load, but I was stuck! Soon my next Camino angels arrived, a Finnish couple (sorry, Finnish names are hard to find associations to help me remember). The man pulled me up each step from above!

My lunch stop after walking three hours was in Lorca, preceded by another climb. I was averaging 2 km per hour...really slow...rather than my 3-4 km per hour! Lorca has a 12th century Iglesia de San Salvador, but by now I had lost interest in exploring every church I might pass by, so I just gave it a glance. The Codex Calixtinus, the first tour guidebook, warned pilgrims that the Rio Salado, below the town, was poisoned by the locals so that they could skin the horses when they died. I closely observed the local inhabitants to determine whether they still had vile intentions even though I didn't have a horse. One can never be to careful as they might be inclined to skin anything that happened by.

After two more hours of walking I came upon the town of Villatuerta where I stayed at the Casa Magica albergue. It is a beautifully restored hermitage with single beds, massage therapy, a pet cat and dog, and a SWIMMING POOL. The massage cost too much...a euro per minute...and the pool was ice cold. However, I dangled my feet in a pool with Ann from Ireland, and baby sat Lee´s dog. Lee is American, but has lived in Holland for over 20 years. I kept calling her dog Bonnie; mistaking her for my dog. I joined the others for another communal meal. That night I shared a room with two couples from Spokane WA. One man had suffered severe head wounds in Vietnam so couldn´t see very well. He was accompanied by a seeing eye dog. They were walking the entire Camino from St. Jean to Santiago. How he managed those mountains I don´t know. He was one of those amazing people I met along the Way.

Lesson learned:

1. Roman roads may sound neat, but they are hell!

2. No matter how far a sign says is the distance to the next town or albergue, it is a lie. Double the distance.

3. If you see a town which appears to be near, it isn´t.

4. While the Camino may be 800 kms, it will feel like 1600 kms.

12 September 2016 Monday. Weather: Hot, but it didn´t matter as I decided to get to Logrono a day early. This would add a day for my walk to Burgos as I would need more time to cover the planned distance. Distance: 0 as I took a taxi to the bus station and the bus to Logrono.

I thought of staying another day at the Casa Magica as I didn´t have to be in Logrono for another day. Alternatively I could have walked further than the transportation hub of Estella this day, but there was no bus service from the next town.

So I caught a taxi to the Estella bus station, and while waiting for the 11:15 AM bus to Logrono, I had café con leche and a pastry. While riding the bus from Estella to Logrono, I passed many pilgrims walking the Camino that paralleled the highway. I felt I had abandoned them. These were my people. I needed to be with them.

In Logrono I took a taxi to the Marriott AC La Rioja Hotel, where they moved up my reservation by a day. My next blog starts with my time in Logrono.

Lesson learned:

1. Yield not to temptation...keep on moving.

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Additional photos below
Photos: 58, Displayed: 39


The long steep climb to ManuruThe long steep climb to Manuru
The long steep climb to Manuru

...the classic shot is the view on the way down the other side
Bob at the top of the hill before Manuru...Bob at the top of the hill before Manuru...
Bob at the top of the hill before Manuru...

note the crosses inserted by pilgrims in the wire mesh.

19th September 2016

Oh to be a pilgrim
Remember this Bob..."It's happening, I am not dreaming, Must keep going. Just like the foot in front of the other...Must keep going." I'm looking forward to the next instalment.
19th September 2016
Templar church in Puente la Reine...note the stork nests

Angels on the Camino!
So glad angels have shown up just at the right moment. I walked the Camino in 2003, and it sounds as if things are more organized now with refugios/albergues having smaller, nicer rooms--I often had 50 syncopated snorers in a room and even food trucks along the way. Brilliant and caring to go slowly at your own pace, use a baggage transfer service (amazing) and a taxi when necessary. Thanks for bringing back great memories, especially the countrysides, storks and their giant nests, Roman bridges, Romanesque churches and ancient history. Buen camino!
21st September 2016

Oh, The Heat!!
I remember well the heat last year biking the Rioja area. I envy you the journey but not the heat. I am loving reading your blog which is feeding my wish to do the same.
21st September 2016

Buen Camino!
Sorry to hear about your sprained ankle Bob. Despite this, it sounds like you are really getting into the swing of things on the Camino. Hope to read that you are better and on track again in the next blog... take care.
21st September 2016
Albergue Maribel Roncal in Cizur Menor

Tight for space
This space looks a bit cramped!
21st September 2016

You need to keep eating the icecream...
It sounds like the icecreams are good! Well done on attempting such an arduous journey in the heat, Bob!
24th September 2016

I love the idea of Angels on the Camino :) And wonderful reading so far - great to hear you are enjoying El Camino at your own pace, very important I think
16th October 2016

Walking my own pace...
is the best advice I received.
29th September 2016

The dream
I love it when those dreams become reality. Bob, this is so fantastic that you are on the journey. Love hearing about the people you are meeting along the way. A brotherhood of people with passion and travel lust. I'm so sad that Bonnie could not join you but I'm certain she is with you in spirit. Lessons learned early will serve everyone well.

Tot: 0.783s; Tpl: 0.035s; cc: 73; qc: 227; dbt: 0.0611s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 2.3mb