The pedometer says that we walked something in the neighborhood of 25,000 steps today, from our hotel in Pamplona to the albergue in Urtega, a small town about 17 kilometers (9? miles) west (we’re always walking west). That included walking up to the top of Alto del Perdon (the hill of pardon), and much of the way back down, an elevation gain of about 300 metres (1,000 feet).
Think sunny, mid-80s, little shade, a good breeze blowing across the fields — it wasn’t too bad, for weather (tomorrow is supposed to be mid-90s). We started about 8:20 a.m., took a break for croissants and coffee at 10:00; another break at Zariquiegui at 12:30, and arrived at the top of the hill about 2:00. The guidebook describes the path as “natural,” which in fact meant that it was rocky and bumpy most of the way. Going down the steep west side, the path was loose large pebbles and rocks, and dust. It wound through fields of sunflowers at the beginning, some green still, and some hanging black heavy heads, ready for the harvest. Wheat and hay stubbled fields stretched away as far as we could see, with mountains in the distant background, and Pamplona, a ruined castle, and a few small villages for variety.
It mystifies me why anyone thought it was worthwhile to climb up and over The Hill of Pardon — it seems that it might have been a lot easier to go around. But I haven’t looked carefully at the geography of the area, so it may have been the best choice. Given the number of hills we have yet to climb and descend from, I may be entertaining this thought frequently. In any case, since the Middle Ages, people thought it was difficult, so much so that if you made it to the top and could go no further, your sins were pardoned without having to get to Santiago. The pilgrims are commemorated with an iron sculpture of several of them, leaning into the west wind.
More recently, wind power companies have found the ridge to be good for things of the world, and have installed a couple of dozen white swooshing wind turbines at the top. Above, the occasional hawk circles; in the fields below, birds sing and hunt the plentiful insects — grasshoppers, wasps, bees, butterflies. Along the margins of the road we saw Queen Anne’s Lace, thistles, teasels, chicory — all of them familiar from childhood in Michigan. A man was collecting blue berries from a prickly bush — he said that they were for making liquor; not good to eat. But the tiny black raspberries, dusty from the path, were sun-warmed and tart, very edible.
And how did we fare? Anthea and I are sun-burnt despite the sunscreen (perhaps not applied soon enough). Our feet survived very nicely — remarkable because the trail was rough stones most of the way, uneven, dusty and hard. Many Camino complaints revolve around feet, so we felt very lucky. By the time we got to Urtega, about 3 miles short of our destination of Puente la Reina, we were exhausted — our first day out — and found a wonderful cafe with cold beer and hot coffee — we decided to call it good. The albergue (pilgrim hostel) had a private room with bath as some do — very clean, comfortable, pleasant — we were sold. Jim slept; Anthea and I went down for the pilgrim menu del dia (menu of the day). They gave us two courses (several choices in each), bread, wine, water, and dessert — all delicious, for 17 euros total — an excellent price.
We were intrigued, of course, by the other pilgrims. Early on, we walked a little ways with a guy from Denver (who brings his son to the Kenai Peninsula near Anchorage every year to fish for silver salmon). He was there with his wife and post-college son and daughter — the kids were happy to come if dad was paying. Later, we met a woman from Salamanaca in Spain — maybe 40, who had been on holiday in the French Pyrenees with her husband and son. She decided on the spur of the moment that she wanted to spend the last few days of her vacation walking as much of the Camino as she could; tomorrow, the family will come and pick her up in Puente la Reina and she will come back another time to walk some more. There were dozens of cyclists riding up the steep and rocky trail, all in Spandex and looking exceedingly fit. Everyone passed us — I am still recovering from anemia earlier in the summer, and am pretty slow (Anthea went on ahead along a couple of stretches). In the dinner room, people who were eating there were well-dressed — they did not look as if they were the sort to wear one set of clothes, and sleep in the clothes they were going to wear in the morning. One woman had charming sandals with little heels, not even appropriate for walking around town.
Time to end and send — we hope to be out by 7:00 or 7:30 tomorrow to avoid that heat that’s been promised. With any luck, the dog that’s been barking much of the evening will settle down soon. More tomorrow —
Our first Camino marker, on the grounds of the University of Pamplona.
View of Pamplona and the mountains from halfway up the hill.
Jim and Anthea at the top of Alto del Perdon — Anthea got there well ahead of us, and is reading her Kindle.
The pilgrim sculpture at the top of the hill.
Looking back at the wind turbines from half way down the hill toward Urtega.
Jim admiring cairns on the downhill path — there was an area with dozens of them.
The albergue’s goat, looking for a handout.
The albergue’s sign — very highly recommended place to stay.
The albergue’s courtyard, about 8:30 p.m. — people still sitting out and enjoying the evening.