Wednesday 15/5/13 – Pamplona to Puente la Reina
25.42km / 654m Ascent / 748m Descent
By 8.15 we were out on the trail again, heading through the quiet streets against a gentle flow of early morning office workers. Although last night's deluge had abated, the skies looked dark and there was no guarantee we were going to stay dry. But at least the rain held off for a while as we made our way out through the suburbs.
It didn't hold off for long though. Missy G dived into her rucksack for her waterproof jacket, and I dug into my pack and pulled out …… her other waterproof jacket. Hmmm, not ideal given I am 9 inches taller and 4½ stone heavier than her! However, in true pilgrim fashion we made the best of our lot, and a quick wardrobe rearrangement found me modelling a ladies size 12 Berghaus number in fetching red Goretex fabric, cut to the hip and with a bracelet-length sleeve. A surprisingly good fit, under the circumstances!
We bought bread and passed by the University campus. By a small bridge over the river we bumped into Denise and Jo, a couple of New Zealanders who had travelled to Europe separately but hooked up together after meeting on the trail. We settled into an amiable chatter as we followed the road through Cizur Menor.
|Wheat fields and wet weather
A clear path then struck off between fields of wheat and oilseed rape, climbing gently towards the village of Zariguiegui, with the windmill-strung ridge of Monte del Perdon in the middle distance.
|Wind turbines on Monte del Perdon
As has been mentioned in previous posts, the path has to cope with thousands of pairs of feet tramping over it every single day. The Camino de Santiago is not a wilderness walk or one that specifically seeks out the most beautiful countryside or the most seductive line; rather, it links villages and towns in a roughly west-tending trajectory so as to offer pilgrims across the centuries the opportunity of food, shelter and a safe haven along the way. With the population equivalent of a small town trundling west along each section each day, a comprehensive infrastructure has developed around the Camino to support, feed and billet walkers as they pass through, including cafes, bars, restaurants, grocers, outfitters, rifugios, albergues, pensions, B&Bs, and hotels – and even the odd mobile shop at road crossings.
Over the years, the paths between these communities have been developed and upgraded so nowadays, for much of the time, the Camino keeps to a mixture of metalled roads, quiet lanes, good tracks and clear paths. Out of necessity the paths have been flagged in some places so as to prevent undue erosion, but in general the quality underfoot is good, clean, clear and able to cope with the volume of footfall encountered day after day.
Not so the path up to the Alto de Perdon, where a thick, sticky, gelatinous mud, slick with recent rain, made forward progress difficult. Added to this, a strong, cold wind was blowing against us which turned the last part of the climb up to the ridge into something of a slog.
|Pilgrim sculpture at the Alto de Perdon
But eventually we made it, and were greeted by the sight of a cast-iron sculpture depicting pilgrims heading into the west, accompanied by the inscription “donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas”. This roughly translates as “where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars” although, more prosaically, it could be justifiably translated on today’s evidence as “where the path of the wind turbine crosses that of the mire”.
The descent began almost immediately: a steep, stony track just itching to cause a slip or a trip. The rain had relented, though, so when we came across a handy bench we decided to stop for lunch. Having had virtually no break since setting out thirteen kilometres ago, this came as a welcome respite. Just as we were tucking in, along came the French couple we had met briefly with Jim and Lynn on entering Pamplona yesterday. We exchanged a few pleasantries, but the cold and wind were such that a lengthy stop was discouraged, and when the drizzle began again it was time to move on.
The Alto de Perdon is the crossing point of a long line of hills that separate the Pamplona basin from the valleys beyond. It reckons to mark the spot where the general weather trend changes from the temperate coastal climate of the Basque region to the drier, more Mediterranean-influenced meteorology of the central region.
However, as the rain came once more, driven by the cold wind, we could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Soon the path levelled out, and we meandered along for a while until we reached the village of Uterga, where a warm, dry bar at the Albergue proved too tempting to pass and we tumbled inside out of the rain.
Good coffee and chocolate tart to die for persuaded us into a longer than anticipated stay, though in truth conditions outside were not overly appealing. Before long, the small café was heaving – a group of 6 French walkers we knew on nodding terms, the French couple from lunch, Hereford Girl and friends, and Jo and Denise (amongst others) were all happily holed up amidst the warm fug and hubbub of international chatter.
Several of the walkers on a flexible schedule booked in for the night, and others made it only as far as the next village. But we still had several kilometres to go, so it was back out into the rain for a couple more hours. Once you are wet, it’s amazing how easy it is to shut yourself inside your hood, settle into a rhythm, and exist in a tiny world of your own for a while as the miles tick by.
|It's amazing what you can do with Google translate
Three villages on, and we were safely ensconced in our hotel – the lovely Jakue on the outskirts of Puente la Reina. We did all the usual end-of-day chores – drying kit, phoning home, getting clean – before heading down for dinner. Tonight’s meal was buffet-style, providing the opportunity to try a bit of everything, and the wine, water and coffee were free.
|Bridge at Puente la Reina
By the time we’d finished dinner the weather had brightened up quite a lot, so we went for a stroll into the town. Unsurprisingly with a name like Puente la Reina, it has a bridge. Quite a famous one, as it turns out – an 11th Century construction with six arches spanning the River Arga.
The town is also noteworthy in that it is joined here by the Camino Aragones, an alternative pilgrim route from Arles (via Montpellier and Toulouse) that crosses the Pyrenees further east by the Somport pass.
|Two paths become one
As the dusk light gradually seeped away, we wandered back to the hotel via the old main street.
Despite the mud, the rain and the cold, we had completed another good day on the trail, meeting new and familiar faces and simply enjoying the day-to-day experience of being on the Camino. Often it is not stunning scenery or miles of challenging hiking that makes a walk, but the smaller things that can all too easily be overlooked – moments of contact, help and support, making do, a friendly word or companionable silence, coffee and cake when your spirits are low. The Camino is full of such moments, which is one of the things that make it so special.