Day 4 Pamplona to Puente la Reina. 24 hot kms
So we are lying here on top of striped duvets in a cool, trendy and very clean hostel in one of Spain’s best kept secrets: Puente la Reina.
It’s almost 9 pm and outside it is still 30 degrees and the ancient town with its beautiful sandstone bricked buildings and narrow shady streets is alive with laughter.
We left the morning-after-the-night-before streets of Pamplona just after the sun had risen. As the too-wide-eyed all night partiers began to think of bed, we lifted our ruck sacks onto our protesting backs and following the silver Camino shells embedded in the pavement, headed South West towards the Mountain of Forgiveness . Even that early, the heat of the sun was almost tangible as it slanted between the gaps in the stylishly old apartment buildings.
Through well manicured parks and the beautiful grounds of the very modern university we faithfully followed the silver shells until the city of Pamplona ended and so did the shells.
It’s strange how each city integrates the Camino symbol into the fabric of its culture. While the spokes of the symbolic scallop shell, many trails all coming together in one point: Santiago del Compestello, are traditionally yellow on a blue background, the shell rather than the symbol has come to represent The Way.
Camino cities, towns and villages have shells embedded on pavements, engraved on walls. Some are flat, some raised, some simply painted on homes. The story of the Camino is something everyone is proud of. Which is lucky, since often in the smaller villages, people open their blinds to greet the first light of morning, only to find they have almost opened them onto a passing pilgrim.
Pilgrims tie shells to their back packs, wear them on leather threads around wrists and necks, picture them on T-shirts
” I’m getting the Camino shell as a tattoo,” says one of my Camino-work colleagues, ” my wife says it’s fine,” he adds, just in case, at 50 years old, I thought he might need permission.
But as we reached the outskirts of Pamplona the tasteful silver shells disappeared and we were left searching for the more familiar yellow arrows sprayed randomly on posts and paths and roads along the way.
The walk was open today, the shady river and forest paths swapped for the unending, rolling, hazily yellow fields that form the flat valleys between mountains. Until we reached our own mountain. We climbed gently, steadily and sweatily, the path narrowing, flanked by purple flowering thistles, until we reached the monument at the top of the Mountain of Forgiveness.
It is an metal sculpture depicting travellers in many forms, walking along the edge of the mountain, the Pyrenees rolling away behind them. And on the other side, a modern addition of wind turbines, clicking a soothing rhythm.
Whether it is ourselves or others we are meant to forgive, I’m not sure. But whichever it was, we lingered for a while in the cooling breeze that comes with a sense of triumphant righteousness at what we had achieved so far and being quite high up a mountain.
But the final 11kms were relentlessly unshaded and even I, lover of all things sunny and hot, was relieved when we reached the unexpectedly cool, trendy and perfectly maintained age old streets of Puente la Reine. It’s narrow cobbled streets are cool, it’s people friendly, it’s cider the perfect balance of cold and dry and the music it plays in its bars and cafes simply the best ( if you are English and very fond of 70s and 80s music.).
We are staying in a hostel in the centre of town. Clean sheets, clean towels and a roof terrace for lounging. The view is of the mountains while behind us swallows skim across the river and through one of the 6 arches of the medieval bridge for which the town is named.
And, like the atmosphere in this town, our muscles too are relaxing,
Each morning it hurts a little less to stand up and stretch.
It is strange that we greet the morning with a smile rather than dread of the distance to cover. I keep asking myself why.
And I think perhaps it is because it is rare in life that we make time to let our mind wander. We need do nothing but follow the shells and watch as a landscape, a country, our dreams, unfold before us. And safe in the knowledge that the way is mapped out for us, that we do not need to worry about taking the wrong path, the wrong decision, we can let our thoughts flutter free.
When in life do we have truly have such freedom from responsibility ? For a while we have put our cares on hold . When you walk across a country rather than drive through it or fly over it, time itself seems to move at the same pace as you. Instead of feeling thoughts rush through your head, as though on a non-stop motorway, there is time to hold onto each one and consider it properly.
Time….that’s always worth waking up for.
We have a few more days before the first part of our Camino journey is over.
A few more days to find our own story.
A few more days to work out what it is we are looking for.
Outside an age old bell is tolling in the round tower I can see from our window.
I wonder how many pilgrims have passed beneath it’s shadow for how many years.
In the dusty heat of a Spanish night, I imagine them travel weary and sun drenched passing through.
We are, all of us, part of something greater and less transient than ourselves.
The Camino is more than a shell or a symbol or a personal journey.
It is a woven thread that links the past and the present and the future.
It is an intertwining of stories and dreams and lives.
…….And for the next few days it will be very, very hot
Quotes of the day
“It’s not the road already travelled that is important, but the journey that lies ahead.”
” I’ve only got that time I forgot to put the rubbish out to feel guilty about. So I won’t need to stay long on The Mountain of Forgiveness.” …. Ninesh
Tips for today
Freeze water in bottles over night. It really helps.
Remember there is not much shade for this part of the walk, so if you are walking in Summer like us, leave as early as you can. Hottest part of the day 1pm -5pm