Day Four on the Camino – Pamplona to Puenta la Reina (26 kilometers, roughly 8 hours)
The ancient church where we spend the night in Pamplona is devoid of pews and lined with bunkbeds. It has vast vaulted ceilings perfect for sermons and choirs but not so great for a good night’s sleep.
Every toss and turn, snore, fart, mumble among those bunked out for the night is amplified. Combine that with some less-than-polite pilgrims who plod about in their hiking boots and rifle through their backpacks at dark o’clock, and the night – or whatever is left of it – is a complete wash.
As soon as the lights blink on at 6:30 a.m., I lean over my top bunk, and make a signal to Jay. “Outta here.” We lace up our boots, toss on our packs, and head out the door into the dawn and a glistening, rain-washed Pamplona.
A rainbow greets us at the edge of town and a cup of café con leche (remember – we’re in Spain now) fortifies us as the way grows ever steeper.
And that’s where the fun begins. The wind begins to build, which makes sense, given that we’re headed to a windmill-topped hill with a famous sculpture devoted to pilgrims. I start to play a game in which I plant my hiking poles and pretend they’re ski poles. Plant, push off, step – all the way up.
At the top, the wind is howling full force and the windmills spin with an otherworldly hum. Below, Pamplona glows like Oz in the distance and the landscape spread out before us reveals how far we’ve come. What was green and then gold is now a tawny shade of brown. Instead of walking through leafy forests, we wind our way down through groves of almond and olive trees. We’ve walked from France to Spain, and to be honest, we’re feeling every step of the way.
We’re nearly four days in, seven hours into today’s trek, and while I’d like to say that we’ve got this hiking thing down, the truth is that we’re both feeling pretty ragged – especially our feet.
The Town of the Queen’s Bridge
By the time we hobble into Puenta la Reina it’s nearly five o’clock in the afternoon. Jay is definitely listing and I’m doing no better. It’s clear that neither of us has much energy left and it’s time to stop.
Fortunately for us, Puenta la Reina won’t be our last stop on the Camino– as it was for the early pilgrims, oh say prior to the 14th century. At that time, there was no bridge in the town and the only way to get across the river was by ferry. Pilgrims would pay the fee and the ferrymen would toss them overboard midway across the Argo River.
Queen Doña Mayor, wife of King Sancho III of Spain, got word of this and seizing a good P.R. opportunity, she built the bridge, scored major points in heaven, and is forevermore the namesake of this important town along the Camino.
And it is a gorgeous bridge – a true historic landmark – but at this point in the day we’re feeling like history ourselves. We run into a couple of fellow pilgrims who report that the municipal auberge doesn’t look promising and after our night in Pamplona, we decide to give it a pass.
We pick our way among the cobblestoned streets and come upon a hotel with an outdoor café and a line up of tapas that call to us like sirens. “I don’t know,” I say to Jay. “I do,” he says and before you know it the credit card is out.
Our room is simple but it’s a castle as far as we’re concerned. We fill the bath with the coldest water we can coax out of the tap, bust open our water bottles of wine, pour a couple of cups and then stand there – soaking our feet, sipping red wine, and building up strength to cross the queen’s bridge in the morning.
Day’s Wish List
What we wish we had:
Better shoes – I bought my hiking shoes at the REI used gear sale. Stupid, I know. Anyway, at $29.99 they seemed like a great bargain, gently used (read lightly broken in) and in good shape. Unfortunately, they’re about as flexible as bricks which can really hurt as the miles increase. Look for shoes that support and move with your feet. Sturdiness is great but stiffness equals big ouch.
What we’re glad we have:
Flip flops – sturdy ones. Nothing feels better after a long day than abandoning your blasted hiking shoes and putting on flip-flops. If you have sandals you can wear with socks, all the better. Forget the fashion statements. No one really cares on the Camino.