As we have each morning, on Day 4 we headed out of the albergue (“pilgrim hostel”) in Pamplona at or before the crack I’d dawn. We walked through old city, taking note of the streets and the turns where the bulls run in July at the xxx festival. Leaving Pamplona we walked along the old citadel and then headed west out of town. This was a day of another major climb – not quite like climbing over the Pyrenees – but a substantial climb up the Alto de Perdon. (Historically, pilgrims that made it at least this far on the Camino were considered to have been pardoned of their sins.). A sculpture capturing a scene of ancient pilgrims along the Camino see photo below) has been constructed at the top of the high ridge (where also numerous windmills have also been constructed). [In fact, the sculpture apparently was commissioned by the energy company responsible for the enormous windmills.]
Some of the most difficult climbing of the trip has been coming down from this high ridge. Loose gravel and a severe slope. I went slowly and carefully. I navigated the hill successfully, but would discover the next day that the constant stress on the steep incline caused swelling and a minor injury to my right knee. After the Alto de Perdon the travel rolled smoothly through some small villages until reaching Puente La Reina – where (thankfully – because I was worn out for the day) I found a hostel for the night near the famous 12th century bridge.
I rose early and started hiking with Clara (who I had met and walked with the prior morning) in the pre-dawn light. (She had promised her father she wouldn’t hike in dark alone.). Because we are early to bed and because we are heading west to Santiago, we watch the sun rise and have it at our ack most if the day. The cool mornings have been exceptional for hiking, but as the sun gets hotter the day seems to provide a constant cool breeze. Once again, a magnificent day for walking as we. Enjoyed the songbirds and numerous other signs of spring. Pete from Cornwall, England joined us for the walk.
We stopped by a famous stop along “the Way” – the Irache wine fountain, where monks, and now a commercial producer, has offered wine free to pilgrims for hundreds of years. After that refreshment, we journeyed another 7 km on to the small village of Villamayor de Monjardin, where we stayed in old albergue run my Christian volunteers from Netherlands. It featured a communal meal – at my table of ten were people from England, Germany, South Africa, Netherlands, Canada, and Richmond – yes, there was sitting across from me Jen from Richmond, who teaches at VCU. It was a great meal, but the conversation and camaraderie made the evening special (which is a good thing because 12 of us shared a room about the size of my office at work for the evening).
Day 6 had the pilgrims at the Dutch hostel enjoying breakfast of fruit juice, coffee, salami, cheese, and bread. The walking crew from the previous afternoon started out together at 7:15 as the sun was rising on another perfect day. It’s not surprising that Clara wanted to stay close to me, I owed the recent German high school grad 23 euros she had to front me for dinner, bed, and breakfast at the Villamayor hostel. (I have not yet found a use for a credit card and only 20 percent of the villages we pass through have ATM machines – and some of those have never heard of Bank of America). After 12.5 km of easy walking we reached Los Arcos, where we enjoyed coffee con leche (coffee with hot milk – much like a latte) and Clara enjoyed watching Santander provide me with my next allowance if euros. I let Pete and Clara move on so I could enjoy some alone time on the Camino.
Almost two hours later as I entered the small village of Sansol I stopped to take a photograph of the local vineyards. A Spaniard came up to me and motioned that he would take it so I could be in it. When he finished I offered my best “gracias” to which he pulled a piece of paper and said what someone had written for him:”it is nothing.” We both laughed. I mention this mostly because I am writing this on Day 13 – Juan checked into the same albergue today as I did and it was the sixth time we’ve run into each other since that photo session – that is one thing that happens to everyone almost everyday on the Way to Santiago. (Ten minutes later I ran into Jen from the night before and we shared some rest time over soft drinks in Sansol.)
In the afternoon I hiked up some pretty good hills, including the climb up and into Viana. (As the photographs should reveal, many of these older villages are located on hilltops for better defense in earlier times.). It was time to have some privacy and my own bathroom, so in Viana I stayed in a modest, two-star hotel for the evening. Good timing – I was ready for the quiet and the rest. (It was in this town where I took the photograph for the Good Friday post.)
After hiking out of the Pyrenees and it’s foothills, the terrain for the second three days was more level (yet it had numerous hills that caused your heart rate to rise), the landscape was more open, and the trails less protected by tree cover. A different look and feel as we left the piedmont for wheat fields and vineyards punctuated by medieval villages many with Roman walls and all with Romanesque or early Gothic churches. )