Somos Peregrinos: Walking El Camino de Santiago (Part 2)

by connal on November 11, 2009

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part one of the walk is here

Day 4: Pamplona to Puente la Reina
25 km – 15.5 mi

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Before leaving Pamplona, we realized that we had neglected to visit La Plaza del Toros, Pamplona’s famous bull ring and the final destination for the running of the bulls. Going all the way to Pamplona and not at least seeing the stadium seemed absurd so we made a slight detour on our way out of town.

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From there it was a quick walk out of the city and just as we were leaving the metropolitan area we snapped this picture:

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It’s a relatively bland photo but if you look at the horizon, way off in the background, you’ll see a distant mountain range. If you view the photo at full size and then zoom in a bit, you’ll see faint white objects along the ridge of the most distant mountain line.

Zoom off Windmills

The white things are giant windmills and were about 14 kilometers (~9 miles) away, a little more than half of our day’s walk. It’s interesting to see something that looks so far off, that normally you’d never consider walking to, and to know that you’ll be there in about 4.5 hours.

Leaving Pamplona we walked past the Navarra University campus, a small town or two, and several kilometers of gently rolling farmland before we finally started climbing up into the foothills towards the windmills.

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Why it didn’t occur to us earlier I don’t know (hello: GIANT WINDMILLS), but the closer and closer we got to the top of the hill the windier it got until we were pushing our way through some pretty healthy gusts. Nonetheless the climb wasn’t nearly as much trouble as we expected and we paused near the top to enjoy the panoramic view and grab a quick lunch of bread, cheese, chorizo and a bit of chocolate.

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The day of rest we took in Pamplona made a huge difference and before we knew it we were just a few kilometers from the end of the day’s walk – despite a nice little break on the side of the trail we’d taken that afternoon. We even considered continuing on to the next town that night, but decided to just enjoy the fact that we were pleasantly fatigued without feeling destroyed.

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Once we arrived in Puente la Reina we had a shower, then headed out to check out the town. It was Halloween night, though Anjel and I didn’t do much to celebrate it. There were, however, several groups of children out with their parents going door to door (including at least one “espider man”).

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Full Day 4 Flickr photo set here

Day 5: Puente la Reina to Estella
22.5 km – 14 mi

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There aren’t tons of photos from today’s walk because it wasn’t really the most spectacular scenery. We passed through a couple of small villages but mostly acres and acres of unplanted fields, which get a little monotonous after a while.

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I double-checked my notes for the day and found the following: “my knee and groin were bothering me most of the day and my feet were aching by the time we arrived.” (cue sad Charlie Brown music) Despite my apparent mopey-ness, the town of Estella was interesting and we visited a couple churches before having a beer in the main square.

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Sitting in a cafe in the square in the center of Estella was the second time we noticed something that would ultimately become a very obvious trend through Spain. In both Pamplona and Estella (and several other small cities we passed through) there was often a good-sized open square surrounded on all sides by little restaurants and cafes, many of which offered outdoor seating – nothing unusual there. But where in many cities (San Francisco for example) the square would be filled by the occasional jogger passing through or some micro-beer drinking patrons who had wandered off, the squares in Spain were all filled with… playing children! Sometimes their parents were even out playing with them! (Shocking!) It was apparently quite common in for families to go out in the evening, meet with friends, have a drink or a little appetizer before dinner, and let their kids play together out in the square. It was great to see, and though I’m sure this happens other places as well (including in the States), it just seemed like an interesting and healthy activity that was just a part of Spanish culture.

Full Day 5 Flickr photo set here

Day 6: Estella to Los Arcos
21 km – 13 mi

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Despite the relatively desolate appearance of the day’s photos, it was actually a great walking day and represented an interesting turning point for us.

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This was our 6th day of walking and we finally felt like we were starting to fall into a rhythm. We had packed lightly enough for this trip that we rarely adjusted our packs more than once or twice a day. We were at the point where we were tired at the end of each day, but not destroyed, and we were finally starting to fall into the rhythm of waking up each morning and setting out for a day’s walk. Walking 12 or 13 miles a day is not the greatest accomplishment in the world, but it’s also nothing to sneeze at, and we were getting to the point where the distance was no longer as intimidating as it originally seemed.

In the days that followed we were often surprised to find ourselves only 2 or 3 kilometers from the end of the day’s walk, still feeling fresh. Our bodies were starting to become accustomed to the effort and we found ourselves not having to eat as much throughout the day. The first few days were very hilly and required a little more sustenance, but the days that followed were flat ones where we would, at first, stop for a sit-down snack break after 2 hours, followed by lunch 2 or 3 hours later, followed by a third snack break before we reached our destination. Howevever by our final day of walking (a 21km/13 mile walk), we paused briefly only once in the morning, perhaps 2 hours out, to dig out some trail mix and that was the last time we stopped or ate anything before we arrived in Santo Domigo. But now I’m jumping too many days ahead.

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From about 15 minutes into our first day’s walk out of St. Jean, Anjel started wishing we had the time to walk the entire distance to Santiago (a roughly 30-day effort) but I don’t think it was until today that we really started to get a sense of what the pilgrimage was, and to understand what it would be like to walk the entire way.

The biggest challenge in a trek like this isn’t the physical difficulty, but the mental challenge; the initial idea of simply walking for an entire month. It’s an understandable reaction since doing “nothing” is usually a challenge in itself, but it always surprises me that given a little bit of time, it’s an easier routine to fall into than one might think.

About a year or so before he passed, my father and I went on a 2-day retreat together to the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California. It was a place that he and my mother discovered several years back, and one that they visited from time to time. While guided retreats are offered, Dad and I were just looking to spend some spiritual time together (and by that time he was good friends with several of the monks there) so we had no specific schedule for our time there and were left largely to our own devices.

I should clarify that, although we had no specific schedule, there is indeed a very specific schedule to monastic life. Every morning the bell is rung at 5:15, followed by a second at 5:30 to signal the start of Vigils (early morning prayer). There is a third bell at 7:00 for Lauds (another period of prayer) followed by a fourth bell at 11:30 for Eucharist and a final bell at 6:00pm for Vespers. The time in between these periods of organized prayer is spent in different ways: for the monks there are times when it is spent in silent reflection, and there are also times when it is used to take care of the various administrative duties of the monastery.

My father and I were only there for 2 days, but even within that very short period of time, things start to slow down and I began to understand the lure of what seems at first to be a very strange schedule. By the time we left I understood why it was that he and my mother took time away to go down there, and could see myself taking a week-long retreat at some point.

And so it was with our time on the Camino. Mornings we woke up, packed up our sleeping bag, had a simple breakfast, and were out of the auberge by 8:30. Everyday we would spend anywhere from 6 to 9 hours walking. Occasionally we would overtake (or be overtaken by) other groups out on the path, but there were just as many days when we hardly saw another pilgrim. Some days were pleasant with varied terrain and beautiful vistas; others were flat dirt roads paralleling highways and non-stop wind. There were days when Anjel and I would talk for hours at a time or read aloud from Don Quixote, and other days when we spent most of the time just walking silently together. Every evening we would arrive in an auberge, sometimes seeing people from the night before, sometimes running into a friend we hadn’t seen for a few days, but always meeting some new people.

Though a spiritual purpose is not a requirement for walking the Camino, it is a religious pilgrimage, a journey that has been undertaken for a thousand years, and it was interesting to see it draw both Anjel and I in to the experience in ways we hadn’t expected.

Full set of Day 6 Flickr photos here

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 olivia November 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm

you need some lamas bread! where are those elves when you need them?!

Reply

2 connal November 12, 2009 at 4:33 am

Are you the big nerd for the LOTR reference, or am I the bigger nerd for correcting it to “lembas” bread.

Hard to say, hard to say.

Reply

3 Bri November 12, 2009 at 9:53 am

Your whole website is a LOTR reference, NERD.

Write some 40-verse walking songs and be done with it.

Reply

4 connal November 12, 2009 at 11:22 am

I haven’t even written the post yet about how we (re)read the entirety of the Hobbit while walking through Ireland… don’t get ahead of me.

Reply

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