Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Day 6 - Exhaustion and Doubts : Zubiri to Pamplona

Today began at 5:30 am, just a few short hours after last night's soccer game came to end.  Our chosen albergue offered no breakfast, so we returned to the Cafe del Camino to enjoy a cafe con leche and chocolate croissant before re-crossing the bridge and heading onward towards Pamplona. We were joined by a fellow pilgrim we met last night as we set out, all of us hoping to cover as many kilometres as possible before the expected heat set in. 

At the far edge of Zubiri we learned why the guidebook classified the town as industrial when we passed the Magna facility, around which the landscape was clearly devastated by the mining and forestry industries.

The narrow footpath cut through shoulder high grass, and then turned to a set stone trail that passed by farms and horse pastures along a river way, and through several beautifully landscaped villages that had public fountains from which we were able to refill out water bottles.  


In Larrosoanna we arrived at a charming pilgrim pub and enjoyed a coffee on the outdoor patio before parting ways with our fellow hikers.


After this point the Camino ran alongside the shoulder of a busy roadway leading to several hours of pavement hiking prior to heading back uphill towards a trail which passed by a series of eerily abandoned military facilities.

We continued to follow the now common yellow arrows through Zuriain and Zabaldka, and eventually we arrived at a water fountain in Esteribar, where we enjoyed our packed lunch and a bottle of water at one of the public picnic tables. Having enjoyed our short break, we began an uphill climb along a beautiful forested track, which soon began to weave along the rural hillsides, past old Spanish estates, and finally into the suburbs of Villava and Atarrabia on the outskirts of Pamplona.

On the edges of this large urban centre we found a cafe and some shade, and sat down to enjoy a piece of cake and two large glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. After having regained our energy we set off to make the final push into the old quarter of the historic city of Pamplona. This is the first large city we have come to on the Camino, and once we got into town we noticed that the yellow arrows had been replaced with silver shells on the ground. 

The hike through Pamplona was hard given the long stretches of paved streets, the steep climb into the old town, the heat of the day, and the noisiness and bustle of city life, which we no longer used to. 

Once we had climbed into the walled old section of town we get lost in the twisting warren of narrow cobbled streets, and after several circuits were unable to find the main pilgrim albergue, Jesus y Maria. Frustrated, exhausted, and hot, we decided to make our way back to the city gates and rent a private room above the Hostel Casa Ibarrola albergue in the hopes of getting a good night's rest. Here we were graciously welcomed and given a drink of cool water while our host checked us in. Somewhat recovered we were taken up three stories of narrow stairs to our semi-private rooms, which in fact were an old apartment whose two private quarters and living room had been converted to three pilgrim bedrooms. We soon stripped off our grimy and sweaty clothes, enjoyed cold showers, unpacked our bags, did our daily laundry and took a long break throughout much of the afternoon. 

By 3 pm we decided it was time to find something to eat, and we set out to explore Pamplona. Unfortunately, as we had been warned, almost all the restaurants, bars, and tapas bars were closed for the siesta - which is a hard reality to face while you are hungry and used to the 24/7 world of North America. As we wandered we were surprised by the number of teenagers sitting in the streets drinking beer and eating sunflower seeds. 

As the evening progressed the streets actually became quite packed with people, yet despite the amount of alcohol being consumed, we didn't see any fights or disturbances - just people talking and seeming to enjoy the warm summer evening. We found this quite amazing, especially given the prevalent graffiti throughout the city stating "You are not in Spain or France, you are in Basque Country", which hinted at some fairly heated political debates in the region. 

Unfortunately, given our exhaustion and the heat, our frustration levels were pretty high today, and this whole idea of walking 800 km seemed pretty overwhelming. In fact, Sean seems to be fast falling into frustration and despair, and is talking seriously about quitting the Camino and going home. I am far too stubborn to give in and quit, and I don't think that would be a healthy choice for him, so after a long discussion I convinced him (very much against his will) to continue on and see how it goes tomorrow, and if in three days from now he still wants out, then I will help him go home. As we are both learning, sometimes the Camino is far more exhausting mentally than it is physically.

After finding a small, quiet Tapas bar that was open during the afternoon and willing to serve us some delicious tortilla con patate, we felt we had the energy to explore the city some more. Our first stop was at the central church, the Cathedral de Santa Maria, which contained a wondrous collection of statues, beautiful stained glass, and a deliciously cool cloister which we lingered in for some time. (Yes, this might sound sacrilegious, but in the warmth of a Spanish afternoon, cloisters make a wonderful place to find refuge and relaxation). 

Afterwards we wandered until we found the iconic statue of citizens running with the bulls, located the famed Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, and ran across Hemingway's memorial likeness. 

In addition, we stumbled across a bookstore with Spanish Penguin Classics books - Penguin Classico - a highlight for Sean, who is an avid Penguin Classics book collector. 

As the evening began we realized how beautiful Pamplona truly is. There is so much to see and experience in Pamplona - the history, culture, amazing food, and atmosphere. It is truly a shame that we only have a few hours in a single afternoon to experience it, and that we are so exhausted from our initial jet lag, excitement, 3-4 days without much rest, the adjustment of settling into the rhythm of long-distance hiking, and the heat. I think my advise to others would be that if you have the time, take a day to rest here, restore your energy, and enjoy the Spanish culture.

To anyone hiking through here in the future, I would certainly recommend (especially if you are tired) taking a day or two extra here and really enjoying the sites more. You should also take a minute to enjoy some ice cream, not only because it is wonderful but also because it makes you sit down, take a breath, and notice the beauty of your surroundings. Ultimately however our time in Pamplona was hindered by our lack of a good night's sleep in four days, and the strain of long distance hiking in the heat since SJPP. As a result we did not get a chance to enjoy the famed night culture of the city given that we ate a small dinner and went to bed for 9pm in the hopes of catching up on our sleep.

** Post Camino Notes: In retrospect, I think we would have benefited greatly from taking a rest day, either when we arrived in Europe, or here in Pamplona, and I would definitely recommend doing so to anyone who has the time. When we spoke to other pilgims near the end of our journey, quite a few admitted feeling like they wanted to quit sometime during the first week - often around day 3 or 4. It is impossible not to be excited about starting your Camino, and this, combined with getting used to sleeping in dorms with many other people, as well as walking long distances every day, eventually catches up with everyone. If you haven't been in Europe before, it also takes a while to figure out how to do basic things - like how and what to order in restaurants, and when and where to find snacks in the absence of variety stores, so that you have something to tide yourself over with during Siesta if you miss lunch. Nothing is impossible, it is just different, and figuring it out while adjusting to everything else can be very daunting and exhausting. However, if you find yourself wanting to quit, my advise would be to take a break, get some real sleep, and then continue walking for a few more days. Things will get better, and the benefits of toughing it out are totally worth it!
Practical information:

Distance: 20.9km
Max Temperature: 28°C
Accommodations: Hostel Casa Ibarrola