“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. Unfortunately, when I walked into the labyrinth of narrow streets, I lost all sense of direction. Fatigue and jet lag had scrambled my brain. I returned several times to the Tourist Office before admitting defeat. Finally, 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 were closed in Spain. However, the Hostal I was staying at had a restaurant, an inviting dining room exuding 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, hand-washing my muddy walking gear, and found a sunny spot to erect my clothesline. Later I walked 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. Unfortunately, the delicately balanced aromas wafting off the plates did little to prevent an overwhelming urge to sleep.
Refreshed from an afternoon siesta, I set off to find a tienda to buy supplies. Then walked to a nearby square, Plaza del Castillo, bought gelato and spent an hour people-watching; 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 became 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 stopped me. The mother wanted to know where I came from and where I was going. My reply was translated into Spanish, and later the daughter would tell her classmates she had met a lady from Nueva Zelanda walking to Santiago de Compostela. In reality, I was taking it one day at a time, determined to enjoy each day as it unfolded.
I got my first glimpse of the day’s challenge, a 750m steep climb up to Alto de Perdon, as I wound my way out of the outlining suburb of Cizur Menor. Standing at the entrance to the dirt path, which winds up this mountain, I spied Hilary, sans backpack. I was surprised to see her but also glad because I had some questions about 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. Hilary seemed puzzled, so I shared 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 wasn’t a coincidence that this beautiful woman marched into my life and shared the Judaism concept of Tikkun with me. All along the trail, you will hear pilgrims say, “the Camino provides.” Hilary shared with me the Judaism concept of Tikkun, giving me a framework to shine a light on my fears, chase them out from the shadows and allowing me to trust my body again.
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.
Just before Zariquiequi (600m mark), I stopped for a break and sat with the Urdaniz Korean family. I had been climbing 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 on 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 from the sun, opting to eat 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 it hit the spot there and then.
The new Albergue-Hostal in Obanos felt like an oasis. I loved the private cabin like bunk beds with drawers to put all our stuff, the 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 day’s downpour. Thankfully they also had a drier. After a siesta, we explored Obanos, bought some food which we later cooked and shared. Another great day on the Camino.
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 would ease the challenge of finding accommodation, partly because 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, some fatigue from lack of sleep. Day five or six should come with warning bells for all those whose working-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. Not wanting to retrace that section on weary legs, I decided to stay a night in Villatuerta.
This is one of the most beautiful walking days on the Camino. Bleached earth walking trails, next to freshly ploughed red paddocks, twist and turn to expose views of hilltop towns while we walk under an azure sky. However, the heat plus the constant steep ascents and descents of these hilltop towns make it a tough walking day. Yvan, the Zen Olive garden creator and my Fitbit (119 floors), confirmed this statement.
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, so Michael and I bid each other a Buen Camino and parted ways.
Albergue La Casa Mágica, in Villatuerta 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 with a beer. This was followed by lunch, a refreshing and delicious bowl of gazpacho soup. The two attractions of this Albergue are beds, yes, an actual bed and also on-site massages. I signed up for a thirty-minute massage. My spirit was revived.
Day Seven: Villatuerta to Sansol (Albergue Sansol)
I woke up wondering if my decision to stay at Albergue Sansol, in a sleepy village 6.8 km from Los Arcos, was wise. Especially as it involved walking 32.92 km. The mileage was way over my comfort zone of 24 km. However, I had awarded a gold star 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 it would be wise to port my backpack.
It was a bit tricky navigating my way out of Villatuerta, as once we leave the village, the Camino branches into two tracks. I wanted to take the one that went through Estella. Once I passed this waymarker, I was able to relax and ruminate on “that walk.” In 2014 we walked this trail during the hottest part of the day. The air was tainted by an acrid industrial smell, making it hard to breathe. To the right of us was a burnt-out derelict apartment block, which seemed very sinister at the time. Five years later, the apartment block was restored and occupied. The air was fresh, and before I knew it, I was striding into 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. First, 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. Thankfully ahead of me was 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 walked with him into Los Arcos and joined them to on the footpath outside a tienda to eat watermelon heavy with juices. Then I went back inside to purchase a chocolate-covered muesli bar for energy. Seeing my flagging state, Randall invited me to walk along with them to Sansol. As we walked, Randall told end-of-the-day walking tales; mirages and 5 km routes that take hours to walk.
Sansol was proving to be a mirage, appearing on the horizon then disappearing. The last five kilometres on the Camino often saps your energy. The mind weirdly then goes into overdrive, churning out doubts. The relief and joy I felt upon arriving at the Albergue sunk. The bathroom washbasin doubled as the laundry. After the quiet open spaces of the track, the outdoor garden felt noisy and overcrowded. I lost my desire to soak my feet in the ice-cold foot pool. Instead, 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. I proved I could walk over thirty kilometres in a day; however, I wasn’t sure how I would fare tomorrow.
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 acted as a spotlight, making 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. After that, 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, my energy was depleted and in need of someone to walk with. Nearby was a Spanish couple, also looking fatigued. However, as I approached them, they shuffled off. I waited a few minutes, then 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 required confirmation by an email containing credit card details. As I could not 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 of both of the hostals. 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 of 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 park through the ruins of the Church of San Pedro. Then left through a side entrance; our silhouettes were 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 grabbed hold of that energy, as in the morning, I would be retracing my footsteps to Parque Granjera. It was here in 2014 that I realised I could physically no longer continue my Camino Francés journey. Even though I would continue the journey by taxi and bus from this point for another two days, the lake, Pantano de la Grajera on the outskirts of Logroño would be a significant milestone for both my Tikkun and 2019 Camino Frances journeys.