Endurance Test to Puenta La Reina

Getting up on Monday morning, we enjoyed a good breakfast at the hotel in what appeared to be a converted church sanctuary. I wondered if I might feel slightly guilty about staying in a more comfortable hotel…not in the least! My calves and quads were in full rebellion at this point and a proper warm up was necessary to move comfortably.

The City Center of Pamplona was beautiful in the morning light and we made our way along the narrow, bricked streets to the Catedral Santa Maria el Real, a 15th century Gothic cathedral of massive proportions. Around the corner. Around the corner is another large church, the Cathedral of San Santurnino, a demonstration of French influence in Pamplona and which holds a stone figure of Santiago Peregrino helping a small child.

Before long, we were passing out of the old part of Pamplona following the shells along the sidewalk. The level of support for the Camino de Santiago as part of Spain’s national identity is truly quite amazing. Completing the “Way” in segments is a tradition for the Spanish and we have encountered many along the path who are taking a week-end or a week of vacation to complete a segment. Some of them are the fast walkers we’ve seen with minimal gear – trying to get as much of the journey completed in a brief holiday. Road signs mark the path and yellow arrows painted in all sorts of places help guide the pilgrim. We are greeted on the street with an Hola and Buen Camino! everywhere we go. The hostals, pensions, albergues, and hotels available in every village and city make finding a bed relatively easy and each offers services to support peregrinos (laundry, bag forwarding, food, medical, etc.)

Today will be our longest day yet, nearly 15 miles. The walk out of Pamplona seems to take forever as we pass more modern looking buildings and suburban areas. Passing the Navarre University on the edge of town, we head south toward Cizur Menor and toward a long slope upwards for as far as we can see. Our legs are heavy today and our pace slow. The temperature has climbed toward the upper 70’s and there is no shade. The steady climb is not terribly steep but the ascent puts persistent pressure on our muscles and limbs. My blister prevention strategy has focused on taking breaks, airing out my feet, and changing my socks. Today, I will change my socks four times to try and keep my feet dry.

San Andres

We stop for lunch in a village called Zariquiegui. There are a group of pilgrims sitting along the street outside a small Bar – we recognize none of them. A number of our group from Orrison decided to stay an extra day in Pamplona so we are moving along with a different group. The sun is intense and the landscape sparse. I read that the old church in this village appeared in a scene with Martin Sheen in The Way. It seems vaguely familiar but the reality is that these small rural churches all look very similar. Beautiful stone work and some unique detailing but the general construction is similar. We grab some lunch, refill our water bottles at the town fountain, and move slowly back toward the path.

We are now climbing toward Alto de Perdon, a crossing point at 790m, with a relatively famous metal sculpture and massive windmills lined along the top of the mountain. The point gets its name from a monument commemorating the mass killing of 92 people from Navarre by Francoists during the Spanish Civil War. Alto de Perdon night be better known by its appearance in The Way as Martin Sheen and friends walk past the sculpture underneath the windmills. We are reminded of our distance from home with a road sign pointing toward New York – 5800 km away. We take a long break at the top. The wind is blowing strongly and steadily over the mountain while the whir of the blades from the windmills becomes white noise in the background. We are tired and quiet. Looking toward the south, we see the path winding down the valley and can see Puenta la Reina in the distance. It is downhill, it is in the open, and it’s about 10 km away.

A needed break
The Pilgrim’s Way
“Where the route of the wind wind crosses that of the stars”
Old meets new

We move down the mountain in a rocky descent that is part trail, part bike path, and probably total water downspout should this hot, dry area ever get rain. We stop off and on to give our knees, our feet, and our muscles a break. A gregarious group of Italians has been near us for a while but we are finding quiet as they pull away. We walk silently, absorbed in our own thoughts or, in my case, lack there-of. This segment feels raw, and inch-by-inch physical. Finally nearing the next town, we stop at a small shrine to Our Lady for respite and a prayer or two.

We walk through two additional towns but have no energy to look around. The second, Obanos, is steep and winding with two lovely churches and children playing after school. We stop, smile, and air our feet. Moving on, we reach Puenta la Reina and Albergue Jakue, happily located at the north edge of the village. It has been nearly 8 hours since we left Pamplona. After a warm shower, I leave Sally napping in the room and head to the bar for an Estella Galicia – not my favorite beer but cold and refreshing. I make my first call to the office to check-in; the call is brief and all sounds well. Grabbing my iPad, I try to gather my thoughts but no words come. I am comfortable but spent. We walk further than I’d like to eat in the village – primarily because we can’t stomach another “pilgrim’s dinner”, now a pejorative for bland food produced in mass quantities. Dinner is pizza for Sally and some kind of beef for me – the pizza is better and a glass of wine completes the meal. The server refuses to accommodate my English and playfully pushes me on my broken Spanish. I am in no mood to try too much so I defer to pointing. Too bad, it was a good opportunity to learn.

Long day. Hard day. However, we retire feeling the satisfaction of completing this leg of the journey.

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