Home  •  Forum  •  Blogs  •  E-Mail  •  Support Categories
MyCopper Categories Finance Travel Real Estate Games Autos Entertainment
Travels with Georgia and zig
Overseas Trips

Walking the Camino, 2015: Episode 4
6/3/15: Fourth Day walking: Arre to Cizur Menor
I had a good night's rest in Arre, on the outskirts of Pamplona so this began as the easiest walk so far. No hills or valleys, though I did manage to get off the recommended route. I ended up walking along a busy road instead of the tranquil river my guidebook spoke of. It is so easy to lose your way. Especially in the cities. The cars rushing past. The crowds of pedestrians. The strange looks you get with your backpack and wrinkled clothes. You feel self-conscious. You try to watch for the Camino signs. You see some of them, but can’t always tell if they are marking the “recommended” path, or just one of the paths. And after going a kilometer or so the wrong way it is really, really, hard to go back. Much like life, doncha' think? When we make a mistake we just keep bulling our way through and hope for the best.
And then sometimes through pure grace the wrong way does turn out to be a right way. As I walked through the suburbs of Pamplona looking for a telephone store I bumped into Anne and Philomena from “my first family” in St Jean Pied du Port. It was like meeting up with long lost relatives. We tried to catch up with each other as a torrent of pedestrians flowed by on either side. We compared blister-stories, and talked about others we had met. They said they had seen Max, and that he was hurrying on ahead so that he would make it to Santiago in time to see his wife, who was flying over from Brazil to welcome him. I told them I needed a phone to call Georgia, and so we hugged and parted again. But instead of saying “goodbye,” we said Hasta luego, “until we meet again.” That became our preferred “farewell.” I found a phone store, bought a phone for 25 euros and put 25 euros worth of minutes on it, then sent a text message to Max, who would never travel anywhere in the world without his smart phone! He told me that he was on his way into Villaturerte, which was at least a day ahead of me, and told me I needed to stop and see the campus of the University of Navarre , before leaving  Pamplona .  He was right. They gave a lovely sella. Those are the stamps we had to get in our “ Credencial ” each day to prove we were walking the Camino . We’d present it when we reached Santiago.

And as I was walking along I happened upon a glorious monastery, Convento S. Valentin de Berria Ochoa. There were monumental dalle de verre windows sometimes called “faceted glass.” In the United states the largest blocks you can find are 12” x 8”. Some of the blocks in these windows were 2’ x 2’. I can’t image where they got them, or how they were able to work with pieces that heavy. The matrix holding the glass was impregnated with sand and tiny seashells. Hard to believe that concrete would be strong enough and resilient enough to support that kind of weight. I photographed some of the rebar you could see  embedded  in the matrix. The design was modern—probably 1960s or later—and I stood for quite a while studying the panels from the outside. The door, however, was locked. As I stood there, wishing I could see them from the inside, the chapel door opened, and an white-robed Dominican friar motioned for me to come in. He was tiny; just over 5 feet, white-haired and slender but with a beatific smile. So welcoming. In broken Spanish I told him that I made stained glass windows like these but have never seen any using such large blocks of glass. One of his other elderly brothers was practicing the organ but my kind host just showed me from panel to panel throughout the chapel, talking the whole time as if I could understand Spanish. And I did understand enough to know that he was explaining the symbolism in each one. Then he showed me the signature block and gave me to understand that the design and fabrication was done by one of their brothers. The name was Domingo Iturgaize OP (order of preachers), and the date was December 1984—to May 1985. I was very impressed with the design-skill and the use of color. I wish I could have access to blocks that size. I learned later that Brother Domingo had died just three months earlier. But God bless him, he made the world a more beautiful place with his glass, and mosaics, and paintings. It’s something we can all aspire to. Leave the world a more beautiful place than we found it. 
IMG_3051 - Copy.JPG      IMG_3062 - Copy.JPG
The Cathedral in Pamplona was also beautiful, especially the alabaster windows and ancient carved saints. The stained glass was good—as you would expect in such a place, but having seen so much old glass in so many places I’m becommimg quite jaded. I’ve seen windows like these in many other places, but not windows like Brother Domingo’s.
Just as I crossed the Puente Magdalena in the park near the Cathedral I saw two old women trying to step off the curb. One of them stepped wrong, and down she went, shopping bags and all. She landed on her hip. I’m almost sure she broke it, but she absolutely refused to let anyone call a doctor. I gathered up her bags while several other bystanders half-helped, half-carried her to a park bench. She sat there ashen-faced but stoic. She had a scrape on one of her arms. I put some of my triple-antibiotic ointment on the scrape and a bandaid. She smiled at me. But she refused to let anyone call a doctor. “No medcin!” She was emphatic. I guess there comes a point when the elderly are afraid of doctors and hospitals. Instead of being a place of healing, they come to be seen as the enemy, and bearers of unbearable news. Places where you go, never to return.
Pamplona’s ancient stone walls are enormous. One portal still has its working chain drawbridge. A sign said that it was used once a year to let the three kings into the old city. As I entered the old city the first thing I encountered was a mime—panhandling. Kind of creepy—couldn’t actually “ask” for money, but could walk along beside me being obnoxious. I can certainly understand now why some people have nightmares about mimes. I’m afraid that the the falling woman and the discourteous mime became emblematic of Pamplona for me. I’m glad I didn’t try to spend the night there. On the outskirts I did stop to get a ­sello from the University of Navarre as Max recommended. Both it and the campus were beautiful. 

IMG_3114 - Copy.JPG
But, I found that I was really glad to get back into the countryside. The path was flat and quiet and the weather was perfect. Not too hot or cold. I limped along happily and only struggled when I came to a slight hill into the town of Cizur Menor.
IMG_3125 - Copy.JPG  

Stayed at the first place I came to on the left: Sanjuanista run by the Knights of St John of Malta. Beautiful red Maltese Cross on the door. Took a welcome shower, washed my clothes and hung them out back to dry, then went to look for a mass. Found one at a stone church at the top of the hill. Hurt like the dickens to walk there but the view of the little town was glorious and there was another alabaster window inside. After mass I went looking for something to eat. Learned from another pilgrim that Philomena, Anne, and the others were staying at an alburgue nearby and went in search of them. Anne was exhausted but decided to come get a bite with me anyway. We sat outside and talked. Steve came by and joined us. Anne left to go get some sleep and Steve and I continued our conversation. He was miserable. Frustrated at having to walk so slow to keep pace with all the others. Seven of them were trying to stick together and Steve, with his long legs and fast pace, was hobbled. I suggested he pick his own pace and plan to meet the others somewhere along the way. He said Anne was afraid they’d all get separated and Cerys, who’d first persuaded Steve to walk the Camino, was hurt that he would want to walk on ahead of them alone. Poor guy. First time I realized that everyone should walk their own camino—not the camino someone else wanted you to walk.
I had heard that the walk was entirely different at night with all the stars so decided to get up early and walk in the morning. I said good-night early and went back to the albergue to layout everything for an early morning walk. I had no idea it was going to be such a LONG one.
6/4/15: Fifth day walking: leaving Cizur Menor
The church bells woke me up at 3am and I started walking by 4:00. Would have started sooner, but got dressed in the dark trying so hard not to wake anyone else I left my poles in the room and had to go back for them, then realized I couldn’t lock the Albergue door after me. Waited for someone to get up to go to the bathroom and asked them to lock the door behind me.
Luckily there was a three-quarter moon, but it was still really dark. Haze hid the stars. Had a little flashlight that mounted to my hat. It gave enough light to walk by but not really enough to be sure of the signs. Ended up walking down a path through a forest of weeds. Came to a junction with an arrow painted on a small stone.  It pointed one way, but for some reason I thought someone must have moved the stone, so I went down the other fork. I walked a hundred yards or so then decided I must be wrong—there were too many weeds growing in the center of the path. Surely the number of pilgrims on the Way would have trampled any weeds, so I went back to the intersection and started down the path indicated by the arrow. It seemed much  more like what I’d come to expect. My pig-headedness and lack of trust for my fellow pilgrims should have warned me that today was not going to be a good day.
As I walked, climbing toward the Alto del Perdon, (the Hill of Pardon, where the famous pilgrim statues are located) the sky began to lighten. I loved watching the moon and clouds playing hide and seek behind the waving cypress trees. It was like walking in a Van Gogh painting. Magical. And then the reddest dawn I’ve ever seen: “Red in the morning, pilgrim take warning.” I should have paid more attention. 

IMG_3131 - Copy.JPG     
Arrived in Zariquiegui, halfway up the slope to the hill of Pardon at 6am before the local tienda was even open. I begged him to get me something to eat; he grudgingly made me a delicious cup of café con leche, and a perfectly burned piece of toast. Nevertheless it tasted good when I scraped off the charcoal, and it felt so good to sit down.
About an hour and a half later I arrived at the statues and had someone take the obligatory picture of me hiking along with the iron-plate pilgrims.
Donde de Cruza el Camino del Viento, con el del las Estrellas
Where the path of the wind crosses the path of the stars. 

IMG_3151 - Copy.JPG

And where I managed to get horribly lost.
The Brierly guide warned me that right after the statues I would: “Descend [!] carefully over the loose stones and through the scrubland to the rich red earth . . . .” Unfortunately I didn’t read that passage until I was about one and half kilometers down the road that ran perpendicular to the path I should have been on. In my own defense I can only plead that the Camino should  have followed the base of the wind turbines I was following. They were like the Don Quizote’s giant windmills, and their constant hum and faint clanking was a perfect backdrop along this “path of the wind.” And the views from the ridgeline were gorgeous with the lifting fog. In my arrogance I congratulated myself for having found the “real” path. It was sort of hidden in the brush and I was sure that all the other losers were probably hiking along the gravel road. They weren’t. 

IMG_3155 - Copy.JPG  
By the time I suspected I might have gone the wrong way I had come down several hundred meters in altitude but thought I was probably now on a road that was going to carry me Uterga, one of the villages I was going to have to walk through on my way to Obanos, where I planned to spend the night. My feet were killing me. The soles of both feet were blistered and I had several blackened toenails. The little toe on my left foot was inflamed and horribly swollen. I was afraid that I might be doing some serious damage to it. The thought of walking back up the hill to get onto the right path was just too disheartening. I would make my own shortcut. I’m good at pig-headedness.

My shortcut didn’t pan out. White arrows are not the same as yellow ones. The road I was on carried me across a high bridge then over the A-12—a Spanish superhighway—then continued for miles along the base of dozens of other wind turbines. I thought it was probably a main country road and would carry me somewhere, but it kept getting smaller and smaller, and was obviously just an access road for the turbines. There were no signs. No arrows. No people. There were beautiful red poppies and other wild-flowers, and beautiful views down into the valley below, but that was cold comfort as I limped on and on. 
IMG_3164 - Copy.JPG 
Eventually I came to a tall rickety watchtower and a sign with a large arrow on it, but the sign had fallen over and there were several spooky looking overgrown paths radiating out from here. I have no idea what it was. Maybe a campground of some sort. Didn’t look like a Camino arrow, and the paths were obviously little-traveled. I rested, tried to re-bandage my aching feet, drank the last of my water, and felt sorry for myself, then continued down the narrowing road. Surely it would lead somewhere.
Around the next corner I could see the A-12 in the far distance and from my map I could tell that I was on the wrong side. I was north-west of it, and the Camino was south-east of it. The road continued in a northwesterly direction and would carry me farther and farther from where I wanted to be, so I felt I had to turn left, go down the mountain and find some way back to the Camino. So down-hill I went, over rough rocks, loose gravel, generally following a eroded gully. It was agony. 

IMG_3168 - Copy.JPG 

At the bottom I found myself in a field of what I later learned was called Avoine, a cereal grain fed to cattle and livestock. The field of was enormous. Surrounded on three sides by steep hillsides of scrub pines. The field was actually a finger several hundred yards across. I had no choice but to walk through it. The grain was just over waist-high and the ground was hard-pan, but with ridges left by the plows and rain storms. Like walking on dull knives. I tumbled down in a ravine thinking it might be easier to follow the little creek bed. Wrong. There were brambles and fallen trees and broken limbs. It was impassible. I climbed out the other side and found myself back in another gigantic finger-field. There was no hope for it. I would just have to walk until I came to something. I walked for about 45 minutes before the terrain changed. The grain became more stunted and looking down I could discern tractor treads running perpendicular to the direction I was walking. I turned and started following the tractor tracks. They lead me to a narrow farm path—obviously made by farm equipment traveling to and from the field. And then to a small farm road, and then past some tumbled-down farm outbuildings, then to a proper gravel farm road. Civilization! I wasn’t going to die in the woods after all! After another 30 minutes of walking I saw a car up ahead emerge from a cloud of dust. I was saved! They would stop and give me a ride some place where I could get some water, and sit down for a while.
The lady smiled and waved as she barreled past.

 (to be continued)