Camino Postcard 4: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

The Camino Begins Again

14.4.19. Saying goodbye to Pamplona, I left the city via the campus of Navarra university. Along the way I saw a tap, and considered taking water from it but as there wasn’t a sign saying agua potable – water drinkable – I didn’t. This was me being super cautious. But did I need to be? After all, if the water was not potable there would certainly be a sign saying so, wouldn’t there? On the other hand, I later heard from one or two other pilgrims, some nasty stories about the taps and illnesses caught from them. I never reached a firm conclusion but as I never drank from a tap after Zubiri I guess I had already made my mind up.

So, I tramped along the side of the road with a bottle half empty. Ahead of me lay hills crowned with wind turbines. They would be a constant and distant companion for some days to come. Today, my path would take me past them and to the top of the alto del Perdón – the Mount of Forgiveness. For a while, the path rose only slightly but as I approached the hamlet of Cizur Minor, the steeper upward climb began and with a couple of breaks never let up until I had reached the top of the alto. Having shed weight from my backpack in Zubiri and Pamplona, however, I found the going easier than expected.

I was a happy walker today – the alto del Perdón features in The Way and so I couldn’t wait to reach the famous sculptures at the summit and walk in the footsteps of Martin Sheen and co. Onwards I marched… until I flagged and paused to take a break.

I stopped briefly in a couple of places. Firstly, at a little plateau where a kind pilgrim took the photograph of me that (I hope) you can see to the left of this text. The photo gives just a hint of the wonderful view we had of Pamplona and the surrounding countryside.

My next stopping point was at the wonderfully named Zariquiegui. Here, I stepped into a church and got my pilgrim passport stamped and then bought some more water in the local shop. There is an albergue in Zariquiegui and as I gulped down my drink, pilgrims sat outside it, enjoying the sun and eating brunch. I tried to go in to the albergue to get another stamp but it was busy and not very big inside. As I didn’t want to hit anyone with my backpack, I made a tactical retreat.

The path wound on. Two or three weeks later I read of an American pilgrim who died on it. Requiescat in Pace. I don’t know why he died but if it was of a heart attack I think he must have brought his death with him. The path to the top of the alto was good exercise, but not especially strenuous. Perhaps the American pilgrim had a condition that was provoked by that exercise, as ‘easy’ as it was. It is a very sobering thought to think that we might be carrying around within ourselves the seeds of our deaths. Say a prayer for him and all pilgrims who have, or will, die on the Way. They die doing well before the Lord.

I reached the top of the alto. After purchasing an energy drink from a van-café I sat down to drink and enjoy the sculptures. Here is a lovely blog post about them.

By the time I arrived at the top of the alto, there were already pilgrims there. Pilgrims were coming and going all the time. I really wanted someone to take a photograph of me beside the sculptures. Who could I ask?

Two young women arrived and sat down. I recognised them. They were the friends I had met on the first day, resting against the crash barrier. One of them was very attractive. Ask them, I told myself. I didn’t. Too shy. Well, then, try not to look at them; it’s rude and they might notice. Okay.

Presently, someone asked me to take a photo of them so that gave me the opportunity to ask if they could return the favour.

After resting, I walked around taking in the atmosphere. Nearby was a police car. I asked the officers if I could photograph its badge. I’m not sure they understood me but they let me. I was keen to do so because, as you can see above, it incorporates the Roman fasces into the design.

I can’t remember if I mentioned this before but in case not, the fasces – which was a bundle of wood and an axe bound together – was the symbol of the ancient Roman Lictors. They would carry the bound wood when walking with the consuls for whom they acted as bodyguards. My heart belongs to Alexander the Great but my before I ‘discovered’ him, I lived in ancient Rome so its always a joy seeing anything that reminds me of those days.

On leaving the alto del Perdón I descended a path that for its first third was comprised of loose stones. It was very treacherous – I nearly turned my ankle several times – so progress was slow. Along the way, my fleece fell from my backpack. Luckily, someone saw and handed it back.

Eventually, I reached the end of the section. (If the Spanish government ever decided to smooth that path out I would absolutely support it. It is the only Camino trail that I hated walking). Puenta la Reina was still 12 or so kilometres away but now the path was smoother and after the town of Uterga, more or less flat. The high point of this section of the walk was being passed by two horse riders and watching them as their horses trotted on.

I approached Puenta la Reina at some point in the mid-afternoon. I was tired and in need of rest. As a result, when I saw an albergue-hotel – the Jakue – at the edge of town, I ditched my original intention of going to the municipal albergue in the centre. The Jakue would do.

One man was in charge of checking the pilgrims in. Fortunately, there were only two people in front of me. And coincidentally, they were the two women I had seen at the crash barrier and alto. I don’t remember thinking much about them at the time. I was probably too tired. I sat down and waited to check in. Presently, it was my turn. One of the women asked me if I would like a beer. Oh, would I ever! I had walked 25 kilometres so a beer would be just what the doctor ordered (possibly; he might suggest water). I didn’t respond in quite that fashion. Instead, I said words to the effect, Thank you; that would be very kind. She bought me one, and invited me to sit with her and her friend. Thus, I met Ellena and Carolin, who, though we were walking a pre-determined path, changed the course of my Camino. As it happens, Ellena has started writing her own account of her Camino journey; you can read her blog here.

We drank and had a good chat before separating. That evening, the three of us ate together, too. In between times, I hand washed my clothes and spent too many euros trying to dry them. I should have hung them outside but it was now late in the afternoon and I did not like the idea of carrying damp clothes tomorrow. Unfortunately, some albergue dryers were not really up to the task of doing what they were made to do!

And that was my day. Quietly momentous.

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