Leaving Zubiri, we noticed a lovely garden behind one of the homes. After seeing this one, we began keeping our eyes open for them and have grown to appreciate and admire these organic works of art in each of the villages. Some of them are quite large – perhaps communal. They all demonstrate careful nurturing and care given to all of the details, often with homemade whirlygigs and other decorations.
Today, we are excited to see the city of Pamplona but we can feel the fatigue. Aches and pains are on full display and temperatures are supposed to climb low 70’s today 80 tomorrow. As say goodbye to Zubiri, we wonder what lies ahead on this next 13 mile day. We look back over the bridge one more time before taking a deep breath and moving down the trail.
Leaving the village, we wind around and through what ends up being a very industrial area. The fantasy of the quiet hamlet is broken dramatically with trucks, smokestacks, and piles of sand and aggregate. A steep climb along a road and equal descent on the other side and we are safely away from man and machinery.
At first alone on this stretch, we are soon overtaken and passed by fellow pilgrims. Well, I think they are fellow pilgrims. We begin to notice fast walking groups of walkers with minimal gear; day hikers or tourists? Either way, it becomes difficult not to judge their journey as less. How small is that? I work to repress my smug disapproval but I will continue to be challenged by this recurring trip down moral superiority lane. The Camino meets everyone where they are and whatever their purpose. It rewards and punishes equally, giving back what you give to it and taking what you are willing, and sometimes unwilling, to give. My mind returns to focus on me and my own foibles. Sally and I center ourselves with our daily Rosary and let the rest go.
Along the way, we pass an old church currently being renovated by a former Peregrino who returned, bought the wreck, and is currently restoring it. He was busy telling the story to Michael and Jay when we arrived. Clearly a talker with much to say about his project, we opted for the cursory visit, made a small donation, and moved along. We have encountered numerous pilgrims who have walked the Camino before and others, like this English gentleman, who have turned their Camino into a different kind of dream. It is not hard to see how one might fall in love with a project or find a new vision in such a place under such circumstances – unencumbered by other realities.
Today is all sunshine and clear skies. We follow the nicely shaded path along the Arga River, behind homes and small villages, winding our way toward Pamplona. Lunch today is a small reunion at a Cafe along the Way. Here we encounter Heinrik and Katherine, Michael and Jay, Chris and Nora, another American couple but I can only remember his name: Phil, and one other Orrison graduate, Denise from Switzerland. The conversation is lively as Katherine is being fully 20 and completely engaging. She is fun and feisty like my own 20 year old and I enjoy our banter. Today she is wearing earrings with the Danish flag on them and smiling brightly. I tell her that Sally and I were talking about her (a comment that piques her interest) and that we agreed on a single word to describe her. “What is it she asks?” as I pause for dramatic effect. “Joyful” I reply. She smiles and is quiet for a bit.
Walking out of the village, things open up a bit and we leave the protection of the trees. Along the way, we find the black sheep. Literally. Spanish legend says that every family has one… Happily, his friends seemed untroubled by his status and and appeared to include him in all social activities. Onward we walk.
Up and over a hillside, we trek past an old convent with no nuns to be scene. The grounds are immaculate and a small courtyard with shade and a fountain are quite inviting. Descending from here, we begin to see the signs of Pamplona and approach it over a bridge crossing the Rio Ultzama. Like many of these bridges, it is medieval, beautifully constructed, and has a name and a story. Feeling tired, we are thrilled to be to Pamplona, only to realize that we have another 5 km before we get to the city center.
Pamplona is the largest city on the Camino de Santiago. With a population of 200,000, it is bustling with its own traditions and quirks. The mix of old and new is on full display as we move toward the “suburbs” into the city itself. Known famously for its Festival of San Fermin and the associated “running of the bulls,” Pamplona has a rich and dramatic history. As we enter from the south, we walk along heavy wooden fencing at the point of release for the actual running of the bulls. Fortunately, we missed this festival held annually in July. The crowds and chaos are legendary as many a pilgrim has explained to us.
Hot and beginning to tire, we pushed on toward our destination in the city center. Our friend, Denise, from Switzerland had joined us and we walked together through the city. Denise lives in a small town in the Swiss mountainside: population 120. She teaches piano and has a kind, introspective demeanor. Living on the Germanic side of Switzerland, her distinct Teutonic accent reminds us of other German friends and makes her at once endearing and familiar. We stop several times to rest our feet which are now aching quite loudly.
Finally, we can see the medieval wall that protected Pamplona. Almost there! The old city is exactly what you would expect, labyrinthine cobblestone streets, old four story stone buildings, and huge cathedrals. It was also very busy – life was teaming in and around the peregrinos who couldn’t quite disappear amid the natives as hiking pants and flip flops plus a variety of accents gave them away. We parted ways with Denise as we went to check into our hotel – a recurring preference for me as I work to avoid the discomfort of our first night in Orrison.
A shower, clean (relatively) clothes, and Under Armour slides has me ready for a trip into the city center. I immediately get us lost as I try to find a recommended restaurant and, though we cannot find the restaurant, we are able to find other pilgrims we recognize: the Irish couple from night one as well as several others milling about the city. Finally finding Katsuzurra just off the Plaza de Castillo, we sit down for some tapas and a drink. We strike up a conversation with another American sitting beside us at the bar, Nicole. She is back for her second Camino which starts from Roncesvalles tomorrow. She is from Colorado and quite personable. She shares some suggestions, including a good place to stay in our next stop, Puenta la Reina. Like most of us, Nicole is also seeking and is drawn back to the Camino for the new and the old. After sampling numerous tapas and enjoying our chat with Nicole, we retire to the Hotel de Catedral for a good night’s rest. Day 4 complete!