Having really enjoyed experiencing Pamplona I decided to rethink my Camino strategy. My tendons, now plural, still were sore, a bit improved but I’ve had enough experience with tendon problems to not want to create a longer lasting situation. And more, I liked seeing where I was, I was finally starting to enjoy the experience rather than concentrating on how far I had to go. With that in mind I decided to break the next stage in two and only aim for Zariquiegui about 10km from Pamplona without a heavy pack, then try the next 12 to Puente la Reina with it the day after.
The first few kilometres out of the city is not not interesting, but the experience was brightened considerably by an elderly gentleman walking his dog and wishing me “¡Buen Camino!”, “¡Valiente!”, “¡Valiente!”. Maybe more typical of the older generation, but local people do sometimes wish you well on your journey which is lovely. Once out of the city I really enjoyed the open landscapes of dried ploughed fields, which if just as well as I realised I rather underplanned my day and was going to arrived shortly after breakfast if I didn’t slow down and start taking a few billion photos. As it was I arrived long before my bag.
Zariquiegui, a pretty village of slightly more than seven houses, two bars and albergues, one shop and a church (the loud, sonorous bells of which make me jump every hour), was also where I ran into two lovely friends I met along the way, one of who is walking on crutches, which is a great reminder of what can be achieved and which I tell myself repeatedly when I’m tired, cranky or going up hills.
On the point of people who I really enjoyed meeting so far on this journey, this is as good a time as any to think about the Peregrinos I’ve encountered. About 300,000 people walk the Camino each year, roughly half on the Camino Frances route, I have no idea when these sorts of numbers began. Then there are those who do it but don’t get a certificate. Then consider how many may have done it since the beginning of such pilgrimages. The point being, it’s a lot. I’m not unique, neither are there, an achievement though it is. But, honestly, the amount of people (I’ll say I’ve tried to avoid rather than met), who think they are the only ones to do this, who act like it’s a cult or who think they know better than everyone else, it’s just bizarre. I honestly didn’t realise how busy the supposed quiet season was, and how it’s actually quite difficult to walk alone. I LIKE walking alone! I prefer to pause a bit rather than walk just behind/in front of someone, I prefer to wait and let the big groups get started early each the morning. Maybe I’m strange. And that’s not to say I haven’t met lovely people, I have. Some great ones I’d like to stay in touch with, some like a Belgian girl who was a great walking companion the other day, some like the Irishman living in Germany who really made for a great evening’s company or the ever smiley South Korean girl. The ones who decide its lights out for everyone at 20:30, or party time at 23:00, the knowitalls, the competitiveness of how much you’ve walked each day, the weight of your pack, what you did or didn’t bring, these I try to avoid whenever possible. Maybe it’s uncharitable, maybe totally controversial, maybe I’m horrible, but it’s been an eye opener more than I thought. Everyone does this for their own, perhaps very private reasons, so let each enjoy it their own way.
Having spent the afternoon in the grounds of the church in Zariquiegui, I was thoroughly rested and ready for the next day, a sharp uphill that had me panting and sweaty after minutes despite the breeze, and a selection of lovely rough paths down again. The hills are covered in windmills and made me think of Don Quixote but as a modern version. The highlight of the climb were the beautiful landscapes in the morning light and the sculptures at Alto de Perdón, seen in the film “The Way”. Not my favourite film but it gives some good descriptions of this long stroll so far. There is also a food truck there. Sometimes. Unfortunately not for my friends the previous day!
Arriving in good time at Puente de Reina I got a bed in the old albergue for the princely sum of €5 and so happy was I that I spent all my savings on expensive and fancy pinchos. I strolled around the town taking photos and going to churches, while a friendly local woman showed me the sculptures and headed to bed even earlier than usual, being strangely tired and sick of the hoards of flies out that evening.
And just as well I did because despite getting up shortly after 6am the next day was long! In 40% humidity I was roasting even before the sun came up. Though pleasant to be own your own so early, the crowds soon catch up. Those people with no packs, or the super fit, or the lunatic who was running it.
Not liking the mid stage accommodation options too much I ended up going to Estella. A decision which my feet protested vigorously, particularly the last 5km and they insisted on sitting at the church 300m from my final destination, refusing to move, despite the motivating aromas from the brewery. Eventually I won the argument and arrived at my lodgings looking like a bruja loca. Delighted I had another pod-type bunk for the night and serviced laundry for my filthy clothes, I dragged myself around the pretty river town on a warm, if breezy, evening to be tormented by flies again. Clearly I am delicious.
The next day my plan was to take it easier, give the tendons a rest and do a half day, as there was nothing after Villamayor for 12km. And that was with stopping off for a little wine at 09:15 at a wine fountain at the Monasterio de Irache. I just can’t get the stages right as I arrived too early and too fresh. The day was hot but with a strong wind and it didn’t feel too bad. Feeling very guilty I lazed around and promised to do better the following day.
As promised I rose early and was on the road long before dawn, which means a head torch and keeping a good eye out for markers. A yellow wind warning was in effect and though not so strong to be dangerous as low levels it did mean that there was little sitting as it was just too cold for a change. The 12km to Los Arcos, a pretty market town passed quickly but the landscape was fairly unremarkable, and later became rather boring up to Sansol, a kilometre before my destination of Torres del Rio. I could see it for about 7km and ended up listening to an audiobook to kill time. Footsore but not quite dead I was gutted to see my hostel had a swimming pool, delighted because it was a pool but gutted as I had decided that togs (55g), were an unnecessary luxury that I would rarely use. Well I would have used them today! Torres is a pretty and pretty hilly town, and having stuffed my face at a three-course plus bread and wine pilgrim lunch special, with the waiter laughing at me for being defeated by the food, I went to find a spot to read before retreating after a friendly but determined born-again Dutch follower of pilgrims. I had seen him the day before, where he had quite the audience, there being if not a lot, at least an amount of pilgrims looking for answers or an awakening, or so it seems from snatches of conversation caught during the walk or at the hostels.
An easy (this being a relative term) 20km would bring me into Logroño the following day. This was one of those “I just don’t feel like walking” days but actually it wasn’t so bad. Well apart from the wind, this bring one of the berry few that I wore a jacket all day. It was actually cold. Beautiful dawn light was ignored as I was too cold and blown away to take many photos until I descended to the plains. The small town of Viana along the way was pretty with a beautiful ruined church, but the walk into Logroño itself is mostly along the road and my motivation was completely dependent on an audiobook (teenage me and now me have very different views on Jane Eyre). Before I crossed the Ebro I met up with a girl from Orisson and another from Pamplona on the way in and we had a late lunch after checking into a really lovely hostel. These pod things are the best antidote to albergue communal living. A shower is one of the highlights of my day on this.
I decided to take a rest day in Logroño and visit Museo de la Rioja, about life here from the Neolithic age onwards and even has an El Greco. Though overall I can’t say it had the same attraction as Pamplona, for me. There are some raro characters on the streets including a Spanish woman asking me for directions and then berating me for not knowing. But ok. Still the rioja wine cures just about everything including tired feet.