“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
Day Four: mental re-orientation and physical recharging in Pamplona
At the Tourist Office, I picked up a map of the old town. I needed it to find my hotel. When I walked into the labyrinth of narrow streets, I lost all sense of direction. Fatigue and jet-lag had scrambled my brain. I return several times to the Tourist Office before admitting defeat. The receptionist took one look at my face and escorted me to an intersection within sight of Calle San Nicolás, and my hostal.
It was Sunday, a day when most businesses are closed in Spain. The Hostal I was staying at also had a restaurant. The dining room exuded the charm of a country home. I booked a table for lunch. Then navigated a series of narrow, steep stairs to my room; showered, changed then hand-washed my muddy walking gear, and found a sunny spot for my clothesline. Then back down the non-child friendly staircase for Sunday lunch; an entree of gravlax salmon with capers and dill cream, followed by seafood lasagne with crab bisque, accompanied by a crisp, cold local Chardonnay. Each dish was packed full of flavour. The delicately balanced aromas wafting off the plates did little to stop an overwhelming urge to sleep.
After a rest, I mustered some energy to find a tienda to buy supplies. Afterwards, I walked to a nearby square, Plaza del Castillo, bought gelato. Looking around the Plaza full of families and friends sitting, gossiping, watching their children playing, I felt as though I was in the heart of Pamplona. In 2014 Team Anzac as we become known had bar-hopped, ate pintxos and partied in this area. Five years on, sitting in the square, with a large book market smack bang in the centre, I begin mulling on my Tikkun, synchronicity and rectifying the past.
Day Five: Pamplona to Obanos (Albergue-Hostel Atseden)
I checked the weather app 16o C perfect for walking. On the outskirts of Pamplona, a Mother and daughter duo stopped me. The mother was very interested in where I came from and where I was going. My reply was translated into Spanish and delivered to her daughter. It transpired that I was the subject of their early morning geography lesson.
I got my first glimpse of the day’s challenge as I wound my way out of the outlining suburb of Cizur Menor. Standing at the entrance to the pathway up to Alto de Perdon, a 750m steep climb, I saw Hilary, sans backpack. I surprised to see her, but also glad as I had some questions regarding the Hebrew concept of Tikkun.
Yesterday, when we neared a steep downhill track, my pole grip tightened, my body stiffened, my stride slowed, and I gingerly placed one foot down then the next. Upon hearing the story of my previous two Camino, the injuries, the onset of osteoarthritis and my recovery, Hilary told me that I was doing a Tikkun/Tikun (תיקון) – Hebrew word meaning “Fixing/Rectification”. She explained that the real significance was the coincidence regarding the dates. My Camino pilgrimage coincided with the Jewish calendar’s Tikkun, observance and participation.
It was more than coincidence that this beautiful woman marched into my life, and shared with me the Judaism concept of Tikkun. All along the trail, you will hear pilgrims say “the Camino provides.” Hilary had presented me with a framework; it was up to me to shine a light on my fears, chase them out from the shadows and begin to allow my physical strength to flourish.
Hilary’s overall pace yesterday was too fast for me, so I bid her a Buen Camino and watched her stride off along the track. We arranged to meet up mid-afternoon at the new Albergue-Hostel in Obanos.
I stopped for a break just before Zariquiequi (600m mark) and sat with the Urdaniz Korean family. I had been walking alongside a human walking train, thirty-odd people evenly spaced, one hand on a shoulder as they marched army fashion up the mountain. It was a daunting sight. Their collective sombre mood cast a shadow of the track. As we rounded a bend, I began to look for somewhere to stop. I spied a farmers track, joining a husband, wife and a donkey also taking refuge. They had walked to Santiago de Compostela and were now returning to Saint Jean Pied de Port.
I had taped my knee for the downhill rocky obstacle course. Unlike 2014 I wasn’t fazed, enjoyed the walk, the countryside and seemed to reach Uterga in record time. I stopped at the café on the outskirts of Uterga. The temperature was rising, and while there was cloud cover, I needed a break. I opted for eating inside. The sight of cold beers going out into the courtyard had me salivating. In half-an-hour, I would regret having alcohol with lunch but there and then it hit the spot.
I loved the private cabin like bunk beds with drawers to put all our stuff, the brand new bathrooms and the walled garden area. Hilary and I shared the washing machine. Once I unpacked, I discovered that my sleeping bag was still wet from the previous days downpour. Thankfully they had a great drier. After a rest, we went for a walk, bought some food which we later cooked and shared.
Day Six: Obanos to Villatuerta (Albergue La Casa Mágica)
My draft itinerary, the exception being Pamplona, was planned to keep me out of sync with the John Brierley, Camino Francés guidebook. Partly because I thought it ease the challenge of finding accommodation, and partly as I didn’t want to taint my 2014 Camino memories.
There is a reason the stages leading us to Burgos are called the Physical Stage. The body will at some point moan and groan as your once easy to carry backpack starts feeling as though you’ve got bricks in it. At night you will rummage through your pack and discard items. For some of us, it will be blisters, for others shin splints, for some fatigue from lack of sleep. Day five or six should come with warning bells for all those whose work life-limited them to a two-day weekend training regime.
In 2014 the undulating 3.9 km walk from Villatuerta to Estella for Lisa and myself was torturous, our gait slowed to a crawl, and the heat sapped what little energy we had. I had no plans to re-walk that section on weary legs.
While this is one of the most beautiful walking days on the Camino, the newly ploughed red soil pops against the azure sky and the bleached earthen walking trails. However, the constant steep ascents and descents make it a tough day. Yvan creator of the Zen Olive garden and my Fitbit (119 floors) confirmed my thinking.
I started the day walking from Obanos to Puente La Reina with a tall German man. We had a lot of fun chatting and walking, taking photos of each other on the picturesque Puente la Reina Roman bridge. The fun continued until we approached the first incline of the day. I looked up and watched him powering up the slope; matching his pace, would not be wise. We bid a Buen Camino to each other.
Albergue La Casa Mágica was my home for the night. A restored mediaeval building with a large covered patio. After I had finished the daily routine of showering, washing clothes, hanging them out, I sat on the terrace. Lunch was gazpacho soup, delicious, and a beer. Later I went and had a thirty-minute massage. The afternoon respite was great. Having an actual bed, even though I was in a room with five other women topped off the day and revived my spirit.
Day Seven: Villatuerta to Sansol (Albergue Sansol)
Was my decision to stay at Albergue Sansol, a traditional two-storey building situated in a sleepy village 6.8 km on from Los Arcos wise, considering it involved walking 32.92 km crazy? The mileage was way over my comfort zone of 24 km. However, I had awarded a gold start in 2014 to the route Estella to Los Arcos for the best walking day. After a generous breakfast at La Casa Mágica and a rethink of the day ahead, I decided to port my backpack.
It was a bit tricky navigating my way out of Villatuerta. Once out of the village the Camino branches into two tracks. I wanted to take the one that went through Estella. After this point, I was able to relax and ruminate on “that walk.” The air was still fresh, the once burnt out derelict apartment block restored and occupied. There were no longer acrid industrial smells tainting the countryside. Before I knew it, I was approaching the outskirts of Estella and walking past the Church of San Sepulcro, where the Kings of Navarre once took their oaths. In the old town, I stopped and had a coffee.
Just before the wine fountain at Irache, I meet a fellow Kiwi. We shared the wine moment then parted ways at the crossroads, she was taking the mountain track, and I was going on what I remembered as a long flat pathway to Monjardin. I had conveniently forgotten the 1.9 km steep climb up to Monjardin then the ascent down onto the remote path through farmlands and vineyards. It’s a lovely stretch to walk. However, I needed a break. I was eagerly anticipating Eduardos Café Móvil. Finally, a lot further on than expected it appeared. I needed to be in Sansol by 4 pm to secure my booking, another thirteen odd kilometres to walk, probably three hours unless I put the pedal to the metal.
On the outskirts of Los Arcos fatigue from my speedy walking pace began to set in. I met up with a younger pilgrim who was part of a Camino family that included a Roncesvalles friend, Randall. They had also spent the night at La Casa Mágica. I stopped with them in Los Arcos, ate watermelon heavy with juices, then purchased a chocolate-covered muesli bar for energy. Seeing my flagging state Randall said they were going to Sansol As we walked, Randall told end-of-the-day walking tales; mirages and 5 km stretches which take hours to walk.
Sansol would appear on the horizon then disappear. The last five kilometres on the Camino saps your energy, and the mind churns out doubts. My relief and joy I felt upon arriving at the Albergue, sunk. The bathroom washbasin doubled as the laundry. I lost my desire to soak my feet. After the quiet open spaces of the track, the outdoor garden felt noisy and overcrowded. I took a deep breath, bought a beer, joined Hilary. I began to relax and enjoy hanging out with other pilgrims. My legs still felt strong, however, not willing to wake up with aches and pains I slept with my skins on; compression leggings, which accelerate recovery processes.
Day Eight: Sansol to Viana (Hotel Palacio de Pujadas)
By the time I’d gathered my gear, checked my bunk space for missed items, packed my backpack and sauntered down to the dining room, Hilary was halfway through breakfast. Our itineraries for the day were different. She was walking to Logroño – 21 km, while I had decided to have a semi-rest day and stop at Viana – 11.6 km. Hilary thinking we might meet up again on Friday at Navarrete offered to book accommodation for us both.
I left Sansol at 7:30 am, the sun rising over the horizon softening both sky and landscape. When I crossed over the main road, Torres del Rio came into view. It was a strange sight, the sun acting as a spotlight formed random golden shapes on the ancient sandstone like village houses. A fellow pilgrim also marvelling at the scenery warned me about the unexpected dip in pathway before it crosses the Rio Linares and enters Torres del Rio.
The pathway after Torres del Rio flattens out, into what feels like a raised platform. I stopped and talked to two Columbian pilgrims who had been in Spain on medical training. We looked behind us, just in time to capture the sun in all its glory rising over the distant mountains. We wished each other a Buen Camino, and I continued to walk. The pathway became a roller-coaster of ascent – descent – ascent as it rose to the peak of Alto Nuestro Señora del Poyo. Then another steep longer slope into a ravine and a crossing over the Rio Cornava. By the time I reached the lookout point just outside of Viana, I was feeling the full effect of yesterday’s huge walk. A couple, pretending to admire the scenery, looked equally fatigued. I needed someone to walk with, but alas they didn’t speak English. Instead, I waited for them to head off, and like an amateur detective, I shadowed them, following in their footsteps up until the steep entrance into Viana.
I hadn’t pre-booked any accommodation, as phone bookings had to be confined by an email containing credit card details. As I was unable to substantiate the email address, I decided I get there early and take my chances. I arrived to find “full-up” signs on the front doors. I quickly made my way to the hotel and managed to secure the last vacant room of the day. The bonus was I could take immediate possession.
My rest day morphed into a spa day as the hotel room had a great selection of toiletries. I languished in a bubble bath for nearly an hour, followed by a shower to wash and condition my hair. Did some handwashing and bundled up the rest of my dirty clothes to be picked up by the laundry service. Sheer luxury. After a few hours rest, I was ready to go out into the world and explore Viana.
I bumped into Truade a Dutch lady I met in Ronscevalles, in the hotel lobby. I met up with her, and her two friends later in the day, we had drinks together, then explored the central, gothic church, Parroquia de la Asuncion de Santa Maria. We re-joined for dinner then I took them to the hidden terraced garden, which Michael showed Lisa and me in 2014. We entered the garden through the ruins of the Church of San Pedro. Then left through a side entrance; our silhouettes captured by the orange sunset and projected onto the wall of the Albergue where Christianna was staying, a fleeting moment made unforgettable by a click on a cell phone.
One of the small side altars, a woman perhaps the virgin mother, in Parroquia de la Asuncion de Santa Maria, had deeply moved me. I’m not Catholic nor particularly religious. However, the serenity of her face, palms facing out ready to receive kindness and love, perhaps to take the pain from those who lit the candles beneath her feet had left me with a sense of inner peace. I grab hold of that energy as I fall asleep because tomorrow will bring me face-to-face with the place where I realised my 2014 Camino Francés walk would have to end. Even though I would continue the journey by taxi and bus from this point for another two days, the lake at Parque de la Grajera on the outskirts of Logroño would be a significant milestone in both my Tikkun and my 2019 Camino Frances journeys.