September 7th 2014 – Day 4
Pamplona to Puente la Reina, 24km
Dave, Anna and myself had agreed to wake and start early so we could tackle the Alto del Perdon before it got too hot. This is a 300m climb that starts once we leave the albergue and peaks after 8km. Climbing it apparently resolves you of all your sins. We shall see. Leaving later was not an option as the temperatures were set to be high and the humidity levels were through the roof over the last few days. I was glad to leave early as I thrive in the early morning. We decided to aim for Puente la Reina and more specifically, the albergue on the outskirts of the town which had it’s own pool and served meals. Bob and Leslie were more than happy to follow us and they agreed to meet us there. I woke up at 4am after a fairly restless sleep. There seemed to be an all night party on the streets of Pamplona. I’m not sure if this was due to the match or if it was typical Saturday-night revellry. Dave and Anna had little sleep too. I didn’t have a great experience in Pamplona and decided that I would pass through if I was to walk this section again.
We left Pamplona in darkness close to 5am, with the same kind of anticipation we had in St Jean, to reach the top of the Alto del Perdon and view the iron cast models. You need to be fully alert leaving Pamplona however and if you lost sight of the arrows or signs, you could end up far away from the Camino. That’s what happened to us. We got lost. One minute, arrows were in full view and the next, not one was to be seen. We turned back, we consulted maps, and tried to find a someone to ask what directions to take. But this was Sunday morning, no one was was out. In the end, a young man in a car pointed us in the right direction. When we saw arrows again, we came across other pilgrims who made the same mistake as us. So it isn’t that rare for pilgrims to become lost in Pamplona?
After an hour, we reached Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona. I had originally planned on staying here. There was a fiesta in full swing while we passed through it. The local bar was still open thumping music and serving drink. Drunk locals were on the street shouting as we passed by. I was pretty happy not to have stayed there. We swiftly passed this town. It was just after 7am and the sun was starting to rise. The climb was getting more and more gradual..it was all uphill for the next few hours. The back of my legs felt it and we were stopping for breath more frequently than before. I seemed to enjoy the ascent more than Dave and Anna and always left them behind. They didn’t seem to mind as it was I who had great difficulties on the descent and usually took forever to negotiate the drop. The terrain is barren, mostly empty fields after the harvest. The only word to use is golden. Save for the odd green tree, everything is brown or golden. Crops won’t grow here until after winter. I would love to see this scenery in May. I try to picture it in my head..different kind of greens, yellows and colours of flowers. A vast difference.
We arrive at the next town, Zariquiegui after 8am, halfway through our climb. I personally can’t wait to get to a cafe for some breakfast. My feet need to be checked as the ball of my right foot is hurting. The nearest cafe is buzzing and I am glad to find a seat to sit down. I order a cafe con leche, tostada, some fruit and can of coke. My feet seem to be fine. I recognise most of the faces from the cafe, including an Irishman, Ciaran. I joke about the town name, saying that it could win a game of Scrabble for you. The town itself is quiet, save for the cafe. No one is awake as I venture to fill up my water bottle from the fountain. We decide to move on. Next stop: Alto del Perdon and a further 100m climb in the next 2km. The sun is up now and we can see the climb ahead. I could see the row of electric windmills, some working, some not. The road cuts between fields and ends beside the far end of the row of mills. The track is rugged but manageable. We agree to walk at our own pace until we reach the top and to wait for each other when we get there. On I go, happy enough to plow on. Going up is no problem but I am nervous for the descent.
I meet Ciaran from Ireland further ahead and walk with him for a bit. He is walking a section like myself and finishes up in Logrono in a few days. The Camino has been tough for him he says but he is taking his time. I move on, again on my own. Being so high, you can see for miles around you. I see the last two towns I have passed. I can only assume that when I reach the top that I will see the next number of towns ahead of me also. I reach the top at last and just want to sit down and catch my breathe. I haven’t taken in what I have climbed, I need to take in some water first. The first things I notice are the many iron cast statues dedicated to all pilgrims. There is an inscription on one in Spanish “donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas” which in English means “where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars”. There are tens of people taking photos, others just sitting in the hot sun and others who just decide to descend the alto once they reach the top.
I take a few photographs myself and wait for Dave and Anna to appear so we can start the walk down to Puente la Reina. I wasn’t waiting long before they arrived and we took a few photographs together. Anna is an aspiring photographer who brought along a nice expensive camera. It is pretty heavy to carry but she didn’t mind. Every so often she would disappear to take an obscure photo or to get a good position but she would return a few minutes later. On the Alto, a van appeared from the Albergue Apostol Santiago in Puente la Reina. We were hoping to stay there. I guess they were there to advertise themselves as they are based on the outskirts of the city and are not the first albergue or hostel you would pass. Speaking to the owner, she mentioned that the albergue has been full for the last weeks.
Eventually, we start to descend from the hill. It is steep and a little too uncomfortable for my liking. Here is me, the grown man, taking small steps, while Anna and Dave march down, trying not to run. It is a breeze to them! I am close to shouting “see you at the first town” but they wait for me. Good one! I have always been delicate on the descent ever since I was 12. Gravity beat me in a battle of wits while going down a mountain, leaving me with a broken collar-bone and a bruised ego. Ever since I have been taking downhills pretty seriously. I gain confidence as the descent flattens out over the course of 5km. We pass the beautiful almost-too-clean Uterga. The only sign of life is coming from the albergue which is close to full at this stage. We stop for water and to take photos.
Within the next 45 minutes, we pass two small towns, Muruzabal and Obanos. Obanos is located on a hill so we have another climb to deal with but it is nowhere near as harsh as the climb in the morning. Both towns were dead save for their local cafes and fountains. By this stage, the sun is out in full flow and the temp is close to 30c. We had another 6km before Puente la Reina and the Apostol Santiago albergue and my legs were weary. Mainly due to the descent earlier in the day. On the plus side, it was great to get to know Anna and Dave. Anna used to live in Spain before moving back to Estonia and had great knowledge of Spanish. Every so often, we would lose her while she took photos and she would catch up with us ten minutes later. That said, she was a pretty fast walker, loved the ups and the downs!
We reached Puente la Reina just before 1pm, the town is large and was starting to fill with pilgrims when we arrived in. We passed the parochial albergue and first private albergue and made way for the bridge over the rio Arga, which is on the way out of the town. Once you reach the pilgrims bridge, you can see the albergue at the top of a hill with a sign “Albergue 300metres”, Our faces dropped when we found out that the 300metres is all uphill!! What owner would place an albergue in such an awkward place?? Our legs took us there somehow and we checked in. I took a bottom bunk. The albergue has 100 beds which filled up pretty quickly. It wasn’t long before mats were used as overflow however.
Bob and Leslie arrived about an hour after us and I was delighted to see them again. They always made me smile. We were joined shortly after by the Irish gang, including Ciaran and two of the German guys that I had met outside of Pamplona the day before. So there was a close family being built up. The only person I had missed was Andrea, who had met a good crowd of people who walked at the same pace. I hoped to see her before I left for home. We all agreed however that this was probably the worst albergue we had stayed in. The people working there constantly sighing under their breaths and I didn’t get a pilgrim vibe from it. Call me choosy but I do appreciate owners who have a feeling what we pilgrims have undertaken.
The night was capped off by an epic thunderstorm, I mean epic! A band of clouds came in from the west and covered the albergue. The winds picked up and rain bucketed from the skies. I was so glad to be indoors. Water even started to breach through the ceiling of the albergue and I noticed a nice puddle gather right beside my bunk, So..it was an fairly busy day! I hoped to get some sleep tonight. I had come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t reach Burgos by the 15th. Plan B had kicked in at this point and I had hoped to finish up in Belorado. I was a little sad. I enjoyed Burgos last year and wanted to cap the trip off by visiting the cathedral. I would leave it to another time.