Settling into a pilgrim’s routine

After the first challenging day on the Napoleon Route, I had a couple of really good days on the Camino.

No blisters, no unexpected soreness. I learned to carry less water and less food and to drink more espresso. I learned how often to stop for a break, and when it’s better to just keep moving. I felt really strong and able to enjoy the scenery and the amazingly picturesque towns and villages.

I even chatted with other English speaking pilgrims while walking (I almost never hike and talk – that’s Mike’s department!) Carly, from Hong Kong, and her nine-year-old daughter were a fountain of fun and positive energy. It’s ironic that I was secretly pack-shaming an American who carried a huge squeeky pack, and then Carly cheerfully pack-shamed me. “Are you carrying a sleeping bag in there? How heavy is your raincoat?”

Unfortunately, Mike hasn’t been having quite the same positive experience. He is having some serious knee problems. He walks along just fine for a hundred meters. Then suddenly something happens and his knee cap gets out of alignment and he limps for the next kilometer.

Sometimes this is accompanied by shooting pains. We don’t think anything is broken or torn. But perhaps his IT band is tight, or he has a touch of tendonitis or inflammation. Who knows – but something has to change or his Camino may be at risk.

We may have pushed things a little too far today. We reached the recommended stopping point in Zubiri early and still felt good! So we decided to press on (after walking across the Rabies Bridge just in case – no rabies on this trip!)

Although it was only 6km to the next town of Larrasoaña, they were tough miles; completely exposed to the hot afternoon sun, and the path seemed to go on forever. We’d left it all in the trail by the time we crossed the Arga River once more and checked into the municipal albergue.

If all municipal albergues are like this, I’m not impressed. Only 8€, but you get what you pay for. The bunks and pillows had rubber covers, like in a prison, and the electricity kept cutting out. There was no meal and no restaurant in town, so the only dinner option was to buy provisions at a small shop and cook at the albergue. With 36 guests all cooking on one 3-burner electric stove (when the electricity was available) it was a frenzy. Have you ever been in the ski lift line at Vail when the line is full of European tourists? Everyone jostling to be at the head of the queue, poles and elbows flying? The albergue kitchen was just like that. Mike put our pot of water for pasta on to boil, and someone else would move it of and put their own pot in it’s place. Repeatedly. We ended up with very al dente pasta, even “al dente-er” veggies (aka raw) and canned meatballs. And with a very cranky disposition. Maybe in the future we’ll pay a few Euros more and have a more pleasant experience.

It was a short day to Pamplona, of only 15.4km, and on the way I formed a plan. We would splurge on a private room in a pension (45€ with shared bathroom) Mike would rest his knee all afternoon – only leaving the pension for a meal and maybe to visit the pharmacy. We would buy him: a knee brace, the European equivalent of Ben Gay, and any high-powered anti-inflammatory that they sell in Pamplona, and we’d light a candle for him in the cathedral. And then we agreed to part ways -Mike would take the low road and I’d take the high road and we’d meet in Pamona. I climbed a steep dirt track to the Iglesia de San Esteban built in the 12th century with one of the oldest bells in Spain (1377) and truly felt like a pilgrim for the first time. This hidden church had a stunning alter and the nice nun at the door let me climb to the bell tower and ring the bell.

After soaking in the spirit, I continued and had a coffee at a trail-side stand in the middle of nowhere, and visited yet another stunning church. Each offered a stamp for the Pilgrim’s creditial. The long walk through the suburbs was tough on the feet (sidewalks hurt), but Mike and I crossed paths again right at the gate to the old City of Pamplona, and found our place for the night together. After lunch, I put him to bed with an iPad and a movie and went out in search of historic churchs and first aid.

7 thoughts on “Settling into a pilgrim’s routine

  1. How adventurous! I became scared for you, Jen, when you and Mike parted ways for awhile. You are far braver (or is it crazier?) than I! Sure hope his knee is mending well and your pilgrimage is able to continue as planned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loving this story, well except Mike’s knee! What a glorious adventure.

    Darbi would never do this. Maybe if there is a Ritz Carlton at every stop. The 8 Euro fight in the kitchen? No way… No way on the sleeping conditions either.


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