Six am the Spanish couple’s phone alarm sounds. ‘No rest for the wicked’ I think on waking. In some past life I must have been a right b@#$% for in this one I have been an angel, is the lie I like to tell myself.
After the simple pilgrims breakfast the sun is yet to rise and we set out in the dawn twilight. We recross the small medieval bridge leading into town, turn right and are met with the first uphill of many for the day. As we climb the sun is rising and mechanical sounds of a Magnesite plant to our right reverberate in our ears.
No gentle rural beginning today.
We soon leave the massive plant behind and the Camino turns away from the roads. Onwards and upwards we go again and then a down long rough descent until we are beside the fresh running water of the Rio Arga. We stop for a rest at a beautiful ford. The romance of the moment is dampened by the sight of toilet paper strewn (an all to common sight on the Camino) by pilgrims caught short in the wild.
We make our way along the river bank where it is relatively flat until we cross at a stone bridge, on the far side of which stands an iron statue depicting a striding pilgrim.
A Wacky Races contestant from day one catches up with us here. He is a Danish gentleman in his thirties who keeps a fierce pace even though his feet are covered in massive blisters from the first uphill from St Jean Pied de Port.
‘If this is all about pain then I am in the game’ he replies to our questions as to how he is going. On his request to ‘take a photo of an old Dane’ we do so with the statue in the background, then on Pam’s insistence take one of me also.
We make our way through the little village on the far side of the river with our Danish friend rapidly dwindling in front of us.
Soon after we encounter a beautiful hamlet that has a cafe doing thriving business. By now it is almost midday, we are tired and hungry and stop for a rest. The cafe is outside under a shelter and has a wood fired oven cooking pizzas and rolls.
We follow the river for a couple of kilometers after this and are just getting used to walking on flat ground when the Camino passes through an underpass under the highway and makes its way up and down two large hills. We are walking along side a major highway for a while as we make our way down and cross yet another medieval bridge this time across the Rio Ulzana. On crossing we turn left into Villava, a town that expands into the outskirts of Pamplona.
Nature is well and truly calling for Pam by now and we stop at a bar. To make use of the facilities we must make a purchase and for some reason Pam buys me a beer.
It is not a good idea to give a hot and sweaty man a beer before the job is done. Well not if you want the job completed.
By the time Pam returns I am welded to the chair and am loath to continue.
Pam wields her powers of persuasion and onwards we go, the traditional architecture of Villava soon gives way to the more modern outskirts of Pamplona. We intend to make our way to Old Pamplona which lies in the middle of the city on a hill and walk as briskly as we can through the suburbs and business districts.
Sections of Pamplona change like a sword had swung between them and suddenly we find ourselves in the no mans land of outer Old Pamplona. We pass families on the street shouting at people inside the buildings. A little child who is maybe two years old hits both Pam and I in the legs as we pass. Interesting Buen Camino! There is graffiti warning of the ongoing struggle of the Basque on bins and walls. We see a little house with shells embedded on the walls and a pair of jeans filled with dirt with plants growing from the top on a terrace.
Pam and I stride by, following the silver scallop shell markers embedded every twenty meters in the footpath, cross another medieval bridge and find ourselves in beautiful parkland where we encounter the German lady, Verena, with the broken back we met on the train to St Jean Pied de Port.
By now it is almost four pm, we have been walking all day and the news that all the Albergues in town are likely to be full is not well received.
We enter Old Pamplona proper walking beside a massive stone wall and then up into the narrow canyons of residential buildings and businesses bordering cobblestone streets.
After getting multiple incorrect directions we finally find the tourist information desk and are told where to find a hotel. The map we are given does not seem to include all the streets and I seek information as to where we should go from passersby.
Everyone of them gives us a different direction and I am starting to lose the plot when we arrive at a square mostly occupied by people drinking from brown paper bag covered bottles. There is an unmistakeable feeling of danger and we cross the road to the Parque de la Taconera. This a beautiful park full of manicured lawns and topiary that has a section housing deer, water fowl and peacocks.
Finally I find a local who can tell us where we are and making our way back through the square of drunks and down a little side street we find our hotel.
After showering and arranging to have our laundry done at the hotel we make our way back into the main part of town. Wikipedia describes Pamplona as one of the areas having the highest living standards in Spain, with a low incidence of crime, however to me the narrow graffiti covered streets radiate hostility and the potential for violence.
We eat a delicious generously portioned dinner at a Restaurant and on our way back to the hotel run into our Danish friend who is sitting with Anita and Julie who we also met on day one.
By now we are so tired we are swaying as we stand talking to them.
Anita and Julie were not fortunate enough to have found a place to sleep in Zubiri or the next village on and were forced to catch a taxi to Pamplona where they stayed in a hotel and then catch a cab back to Zubiri the next morning to recommence their Camino without gaps. They have made it back to Pamplona however can only find accommodation in hotels by the time they arrive.
The Camino is turning into a competition for beds to sleep at night and part of why Pam wanted to walk the Camino is to get away from a competitive environment. We decide we will have to change tack with our plans for walking, starting with a shorter walk tomorrow.
I am not sure where the conversation ended and sleep began.
Pam and Mick