Leaving Pamplona very early on day six, Steven and I felt rested and ready to take on the challenge ahead. We first had to make our way out of the city, which after a rest day was not as daunting as our arrival had been two days before. We left the old city in near darkness and drizzle, but by the time we hit the outskirts of town, the sun had risen and it looked to be a beautiful day.
Early morning in Pamplona. Pack cover and rain gear, I'm ready!
“Camino Angels" are a thing. You might be the beneficiary of an angel and not even know it, or you might be profoundly affected by the encounter. Our first experience happened just as we were leaving the outskirts of Pamplona. We had unknowingly missed the yellow arrow indicating a left turn and instead we continued forward. After a couple of blocks, as we stopped at a traffic light, a man on a motorcycle roared up and beeped at us twice. Once he had our attention, he simply pointed in the proper direction. The light changed and then he was gone. We were a little shocked that we had so easily strayed from the path and grateful someone had noticed and alerted us.
We met one pilgrim who missed a turn and went six kilometers in the wrong direction. By the time he reached a little village, he was well and truly lost. He found a woman, who took him to see a farmer. The pilgrim spoke no Spanish and the farmer spoke no English, but the farmer took him on a shortcut three kilometers through the fields and brought him back to the Camino, then turned around and walked back to his village. As the man related the story to fellow pilgrims later that day, we all had tears in our eyes.
A typical Camino scene.
Fields were so lush and beautiful in the springtime.
We walked through hundreds of streets like this, I can't even tell you where this is!
As we made our way up to the summit of Alto del Perdon at just over 2500 feet, the skies were increasingly dramatic, alternating between sprays of sunshine and sun showers. At first we would stop and get out our rain gear, but as soon as we got it on, the sun would come out. This on/off routine finally got tedious so we just decided it was okay to get a little wet. The climb to the top was steep and rocky, but we were distracted by the views. Gorgeous green fields lit by rays of sun and kissed by a rainbow, wildflowers all along the path, mountains towering around us. Above us, gleaming white wind turbines and the iconic wrought iron statues of medieval pilgrims leaning into the wind at the top. Here, we find the inscription, "Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas." Where the way of the wind crosses with the way of the stars.
A "donativo" bar set up for pilgrims. Coffee, juice and beer. We had an apple juice box and it was so good!
One of the most anticipated milestones on the Camino Frances. In total, 12 figures dipicting pilgrimages over centuries.
We didn't see many dogs on the Camino, it would be pretty tough for both the dog and the owner.
Still innocent and oblivious to the feet-killing downhill portion of our day.
We were surprised to find only two others at the top with us, it can get crowded up there as pilgrims stop to take photos. We had what seemed like all the time in the world before others showed up and it was time to move on. In spite of the grueling downhill stretch getting off the mountain, I declared this day to be my favorite on our Camino, a designation that holds true to this day. Steven wrote in his journal, "Today was impossibly beautiful. I honestly thought I had seen all the world had to offer regarding landscapes but the Camino proved me wrong."
I obviously can't speak about walking the Camino in any other time of year, but our experience in the springtime was simply gorgeous. Over the next few days the Camino took us through miles and miles of stunning green fields with crops about thigh high. On a day when the wind was up just a bit, the crops would sway back and forth, looking every bit like an ocean of green waves. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful and like nothing I had ever seen before. Fields of yellow rapeseed vibrated on the horizon, wildflowers and beautiful red poppies lined the Way. After a few days of this scenery I told Steven if it got any more beautiful I would have to sit down and cry.
Here we go! I was focused on those green fields below.
The yellow arrow guiding us on the Way.
It was after Pamplona that we began walking through charming, centuries old villages one after the other, each one with its massive church most often located in the center of town or on a hill nearby. As we walked, we could see in front of us both the winding path of the Camino as well as the village we were aiming for. The church was a beacon, though at times a very far away one. They looked close, but it could take forever to get to them. Each village had its own personality, some more than others. Many of these villages are thriving thanks to the popularity of the Camino, providing multiple services to support the pilgrim population.
The village offers promise of refreshments and rest, but the distance can be deceiving.
Sometimes we walked in one side and out the other.
Then another village would appear.
This entire town was on a steep hill. All the residents and their dogs just strolled around like it was nothing.
The hill town, one of my favorites.
There are lots of services available to pilgrims along the Way and even the Spanish post office has a piece of the action. Knowing pilgrims will overpack and bring too much stuff, some have posters in the window advertising that they will send your stuff ahead to Santiago and hold it there until you arrive. Other businesses in Santiago also offer to hold your stuff and we took advantage of this while we were in Pamplona. We packed up over eight lbs. of mostly photography equipment, as well as a few clothing items including my puffer jacket, and mailed it off. Maybe that's part of the reason we enjoyed that climb out of Pamplona so much.
Look how happy he is to have a lighter backpack!
A few days later we sent a second package, this one about two lbs. and mostly my stuff. I was very tempted to send my fleece jacket because, while it wasn't heavy, it took up so much room in my backpack and I really wasn't using it. It turned out to be a great decision to keep it, as the weather turned cold and we stayed at one albergue that turned off the lone little heating stove at 10 pm. I had to wear every piece of clothing in my backpack and my fleece just so I wouldn't freeze to death. This place was by far the coldest we stayed in, but this wasn't unusual. Most albergues did not turn on the heat until the early evening and then turned it off again after bedtime. Tile floors were freezing and on a couple of occasions, hot water was in short supply. I spent a fair amount of time trying to stay warm in the afternoons when my body cooled down after a long day of walking.
As we reached the larger city of Logroño on day 10 we left the Navarre region and entered La Rioja, famed for its red wine. We sampled our fair share to see if the reputation is deserved. It is. We had a fab time in Logroño having arrived early in the day, it was like having a day off. We gathered with friends to organize and shop for a picnic in the park. Six of us shared a room at a lovely old hotel that had seen better days, but made for a wonderful dorm-style albergue.
Bridge into Logroño.
One of my favorite symbols, she looks like a lovely peregrina. The gang off in search of food.
Picnic in the park with delicious food, wine and friends. A perfect afternoon.
Sharing a bottle of vino tinto in the square in front of a beautiful cathedral was a favorite way to relax.
We had a run-in with a nun earlier in the day when we arrived and tried to check in to the hotel. We were a bit early and hoped they would let us in. When the guy at the door took us to another door, rang the bell and the door opened, we thought we were in luck. We ended up going down a dark hallway and into a huge room where in the corner at a tiny desk sat an elderly nun. There was a sign above her head that read, "Silencio!" She did not speak a word of English and our attempts to check-in were ignored. We handed over our credentials, as we did at every stop, and she stamped them. Surely, we thought, she will now show us to our rooms. But no, she just waved us off with a stern "Buen Camino!" We were confused. Turns out we were not in the hotel. We had been granted entrance though a side door to the Catedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda where apparently the nun sits silently all day and doles out stamps.
We are obscuring the tiny nun, but she's back there, stamping away.
Many pilgrims collect multiple stamps along the Way, but knowing how utterly incompetent we had been with our National Parks passport, Steven and I decided we would avoid the stress of stamp-chasing and only get the one required stamp per day, at the albergue or hotel where we stayed for the night. Now I had an extra stamp. No, I actually had TWO extra stamps because the nun put it in the wrong place, on the wrong page even (!!) which was an affront to my OCD tendencies, so I asked her to stamp it again and pointed to the proper square. She seemed irritated, but she fulfilled my request. I admit I was a little miffed at the time, but now I look at my credentials and am reminded of a funny moment shared with friends.
In Logroño and in the days following, we said goodbye to friends. Some left for home due to time constraints or injury, others walked on at a faster pace than we did. We never knew if "Goodbye" was really the end, or if we'd bump into them again somewhere. Such is the nature of the Camino.
More wine in a square in front of a cathedral. Sensing a theme here?
Four Seattlites and two Aussies.
Cathy and Helena from Australia. We really enjoyed their company and good humor, but they left us in their dust!
Jennifer and Bill from Philly made the most of their 10-day journey.
Steven struggled with which photography equipment to bring with him knowing he would have to carry it all in his backpack. In Pamplona, he pared down even further. Left with only his iPhone and his creative eye, he took over 3500 photos all told. It's difficult to choose a select few to share, so we are adding a few extra below. Enjoy.
We looked forward to walking every day, no matter how tired we had been the evening before.
Gorgeous medieval bridge in Puenta La Reina built to assist pilgrims cross the river.
What goes up, must come down. Leaving the hill city of Cirauqui.
The infamous wine fountain where pilgrims help themselves. A lot, apparently, it ran dry by the time we got there.
Sometimes you just have to stop and take it all in.
Sometimes we walked alone, or with another.
And sometimes we met up with other friends and walked together.
Arriving in the village where we would stay the night was a relief!
A blissful foot bath for swollen feet. Ahhhhhhh.
Walking west, with the sun rising to warm us up. Graffiti art on the Way.
UP NEXT: Our Camino, Part 3
UP NEXT: Our Camino, Part 3