Day 3 - 4th of September - Roncesvalles to Pamplon

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , Navarra,
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kms Walked Today: two stages 43.2 kms (27.4k + 15.8k)
Kms Walked in Total: 68.3kms
Kms to Go: 720.8 kms
Blisters: nil
Pains: left ankle slightly sore for last 5kms. Trouser rub where the sun doesn't shine (unless you are a German nudists in the Canary Islands)
As promised yesterday, let's start with our lovely section "Reflections" or "What I learnt yesterday, or forgot from the day before":
Reflection A: "If you make the effort to start early by walking with a head-lamp, when you approach the small blue signs to read the correct direction: check before stepping on the grass if its France...there is guaranteed dog ploppies as I found out twice. The only smell you want on pilgrimage is your good self!"

Reflection B: "if you manage to arrive early to the Albergue and are one of the first to get in at 2pm: dump your stuff on your bed, take your towel, toiletries and change of clothes and sprint like Usain to the closest shower. The cues which form once pilgrims realise that there are only 3 showers for 60 people (and that hot water runs out) are not part of any useful penitence."
Reflection C: "Avoid Italians in groups in the albergues, even if it means booking in a few spaces later. They lost the sense of volume after Garibaldi. They talk a lot, enjoy themselves greatly, but do not lower voices at any stage. Bless them."
Up to now the best sleeping partners are probably Germans as they switch off early and whisper. Potentially also US older ladies. However, on second thoughts, its fun to meet different groups each time, you really want to blend 800kms with silent Germans or elderly US ladies?
Enough "enlightment" for today, let's get back to the walk.
I hardly slept more than 2 hours last night even though I hit the high bunk bed at 9pm. My mine problem was having a blocked nose due to the light flu, which when added to the following made the night endless:
a- the beds at the albergue did not have any sheets, nor did the pillows. Although they looked clean, it meant that I tried to stay inside the sleeping bag all night. This task is something that is very tricky in lightweight bags unless you zip yourself in, and with 120 pilgrims to each dorm the temperature is warm.
I covered the pillow with 2 t-shirts. When you think that hundreds of pilgrims pass every day, with different levels of personal hygiene, sleeping in a sheet-less mattress is not on my bucket list.
b- the emergency exit lights in the dorms which are placed every five metres create an artificial "daylight effect". The brain was simply not switching to night mode.
c- "Snore attacks"! Even with ear plugs in tightly the concert would have been the envy of any Pink Floyd show. Sometime during the night the idea of creating a "Snore Victim Avenger" superhero popped into my mind. Dressed in pink pyjamas, a mexican wrestler mask and a Santiago shell on his chest, this hero of the tired pilgrims would mysteriously appear at night time brought to life by increased decibels of snorers. Hopping silently and with great technicality, he would prey on the worst snorers, wake them up with the traditional clicking of the tongue, and then stamp their foreheads with a "Snoring Santiago Tattoo".
I know I wasn't the only one as there were piles of pilgrims up and waiting to be released around 5am. Two other early starters had the same comments, with the added value that they had walked the Camino previously and both said that this time round there were many more people and that resting had become a difficult affair.
I believe I was fully awake at 3am. I couldn't start walking even if I wanted to as the albergues have opening and closing times. Usually its 10pm close, and there is no way of getting in after closing time (lights are also switched off). Opening varies, but most places go for 6am earliest - no exceptions.
At Roncesvalles we were about 25 eager walkers trying to get a move on, but the Dutch "hospitalero" (albergue volunteer) refused to open the door until 6am. The worse thing was that the kitchen and vending machines were also locked until 6am...and I was gasping for a coffee after 3 hours wait. I was really happy to have my electronic book with me to kill the morning away.
At 6.10 am, with two coffees and one ham and cheese sandwich (both horrible) in my belly, I set off on my way to Larrasona.
Having learnt from the previous morning experience I had my head-lamp on and had read the guide instructions and map well. However, nothing had prepared me for the immense darkness which I was going to be confronted with for the first 30 minutes.
The path leaves Roncesvalles along a dirt path next to a road, and enters a heavily wooded beech forrest. At 6 in the morning there was no light penetrating into the area, and the mist reflected off my head-lamp making it one of the weirdest walking experiences I have had. I kept walking at a good speed, hoping that I did not hit any tree roots, rocks or pit holes...simply because if one stopped the darkness caught up and it was scary! Flashbacks of "Blair Witch Project" did come to my mind, especially with the owl warning that this was its territory, and the sudden appearance after a few minutes walk of two green eyes ahead of me. I walked two more steps and then moved my head in the direction of the eyes again...but they had gone. A cat or the legendary Basque creature of the woods?
I only passed one other chap, who without a head-lamp had stopped at the start of the woods, and tried to follow me, but gave up after a few minutes (perhaps due to my imitation of owl noises).
All in all it was fantastic experience due to the silence (apart from the monsters out there), and the mist having a slight scent of beech.

I continued my walk at a fast speed as the idea that perhaps I could do two days walk in one as the both were acceptable distances, but mainly in search of a good nights sleep. I would not be able to continue another day without more than 6 hours sleep, that was for sure.
After 12kms quick pace I decided I deserved a good coffee and a snack. At Vizkarreta there is a supermarket and a bar. Curiously I arrived 5 mins after the bar opened (8.15am) which obviously means that's when the first pilgrims must start passing. A walkers dream appeared in the shape of a "tortilla de patatas" (potatoe omlette) freshly made that very morning...a dream that was rudely disrupted by the unfriendly face of the lady behind the bar. She must of thought its was one of those days when she would again make loads of money serving coffees and food to pilgrims...the torture! Then again, perhaps her doctor had told her not to smile to avoid wrinkles.
If you pass, try a "pincho de tortilla" but don't expect the smile (3 euros coffee and pincho).
With a full stomach I set off for the next 15kms, fully realising that I would most probably arrive at the target for the day by 11am...simply too early for a small village.
I shared a couple of hours walk with two other pilgrims, one being "Torino Man" as I know call him, and who slept in the lower bunk bed. I now know he is retired, this is his fourth camino (!), the first one from Turin, and that he used to be high speed train driver in Italy for twenty-seven years. He has lost eleven kilograms body weight since he started, and carries fourteen kilograms on his shoulders. He also thinks French food is disgusting, mainly consisting of "fat pate", so along the French pilgrimage section he used to carry pasta and cook for himself!
Torino Man had not stopped for a single day since he started walking in mid-June, slowly but steadily. He only had certain scheduled stops in Spain, at Leon and Burgos, with the local Blood Donation Associations. He told me he is an "Italian Blood Donor" and that he had contacted other fellow associations in those towns and decided to meet with them. Now, that is a club I never heard of!
Although I can't agree with his taste for French food, which I salivate with, the funniest thing is that we a similar experience with regards to what our friends thought about our walking holidays...they all say "why can't you go to a hotel and lie on the beach like everyone are nuts".
Around 11am, Torino Man and myself arrived at the town of Zubiri, crossing its ancient "Puente de la Rabia". We found a shop open and for the first time I had an encounter with abundant fresh fruit...ah! such happiness finally. It was a similar experience to that of Vero when we arrived at a Miami restaurant in 2008 after nine months in South and Central America. She literally was drooling over the salad bar as she walked along it. (There was plenty of vegetables in latin america, but you simply could not trust the water to clean it).
I bought sufficient fruit for a couple of days, a large ham sandwich (spanish bread "pistola") and a vasque cake piece with an impossible name.
Torino decided to make a break then and eat his sandwich, but I decided to trot along to Larrasoana, and given how early it was started scheming my "push to Pamplona". I had already walked 21kms, and Pamplona was 22kms away; the day was clear, not hot or cold, and the elevations along the way were insignificant compared to the previous day.
I e-mailed my "trip co-ordinator" back in London (Vero at work!) and asked her to check in internet whether I could get a night in the same hotel I had booked for Day 4. There was no luck as that one was already complete, but she did find one calle "Pension Sarrasate" for 33 euros. It had good recommendations and was 15 euros more than the Albergue of a no brainer!
With a safe haven to arrive at anytime I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. With Larrasoana ended the nice mountain views, and started a more industrial part of Navarra. It also included walks along a busy national road with lorries and cars zooming past with no respect for any pilgrim.
Just after Larraosana I coincidentally bumped into an old couple walking along the path. They stopped for a chat and seemed surprised I would walk all the way to Pamplona. The man was the old "Alcalde" (Mayor) of Larraosana, who was one of the original "amigos del Camino" (friends of the Camino). He had created a museum of The Camino at Larrasoana and done a lot to promote the path. He gave me his business card and asked me to send him a postcard when I finished for his collection. It was then, I realised he was mentioned in the guide book as everything fit with the description. I showed him the book and translated what it said about him. His wife seemed to recognise who the author was, but the old man seemed to have lost his memory a bit and just kept saying "its a good day for walking today" (three times in five minutes).
I have discovered that some parts of the Path have been stretched slightly in order to make the Pilgrims pass hostels or bars. A good example is Zabaldika where a detour of about 500 metres is made instead of following the river path. Simply annoying, especially as it had a slight inclination upwards.
I managed to keep my walk at an enjoyable pace until about kilometre 35. It was around 3pm and the sun was shining with a considerable strength slowing down my progress. The path was also noisier due to the main road and it started passing the outskirts of Pamplona (Burlada).
The heat and the tarmac challenged my muscles to the limit, and aches started being significant with only 4 kilometres to go. They always say the last mile is the worst mile, and so it was. Not only does the path seem endless around the outskirts, but its also plagued with graffiti directed at pilgrims (see photos), and it passes a rundown gypsy neighbourhood.
The good news is that I made it! 43kms in under 11 hours with about 1 hour stop in several places. I had never walked so far in my life, and less with a rucksack! I was exhausted and my left ankle was hurting, so I dragged my sore body into the shower and the miracle of hot water started performing its magic. A ten minute shower, a paracetamol tablet, some code liver oil, and one hour lying in bed watching the news changed my attitude completely. I transformed from someone that would have sent the Camino packing if I had to walk a step more, to a pilgrim ready to go for a nice walk around Pamplona in search of some "pintxos" (tapas in Navarra and Vasque Country).
I walked around the two main pintxos streets (San Nicolas and Estafeta), and stopped at two different bars to try two different pintxos in each.
As far as I can remember I tried:
- gulas with scrambled eggs
- crab mix
- anchovie, sardine and salmon mix
- mushroom croqueta
Sufficient to make me feel as if I had eaten a bull! Each pintxo tends to cost 2 euros, but most bars have offers of pintxo plus wine or beer for 2 euros. One basically walks along the bar and selects the tapas to eat. You can't really go wrong.
One thing was for sure...there might be a financial crisis in Spain, but all the bars were crowded with locals. At 8pm it was tricky to get into some places, and it was a Tuesday!
I was already looking forward to walking around tomorrow, with lots to see and an endless amount of tapas to try
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