Since Pamplona, Mike’s knees have been doing much better. He’s wearing a knee brace (I hate to say “I told you so”, but….) and stretching every night and taking anti-inflammatories, so no more shooting pains. He’s also settled into a slow-but-steady hiking pace that he can maintain for hours at a time, and we’ve nicknamed him The Tortoise. It’s a great relief that our Camino dreams are still very much alive!
We even enjoyed the climb from Pamplona through fields of sunflowers to the top of Alto de Perdón. The ridge is crowned with wind turbines and the electrical company has installed a really lovely sculpture at the top depicting mideval pilgrims walking into the wind with cloaks a-flapping. The inscription reads, “Where the way of the wind meets the way of the stars”
We spent the night in a private albergue in Uterga that housed 24 beds in a single long, skinny bunkroom. Three guesses how we slept that night – especially with a group of snoring Croatians sharing the space!
The next day, while Mike was doing his tortoise thing, I decided to take a 3km side trip to Santa Maria de Eunate – a mysterious octagonal church surrounded by a ring of intricately carved arches. So I waved goodbye to Mike in Muruzábel where an arrow pointed left for Eunate and set off as our guidebook described, down a paved road to the outskirts of town then onto a dirt road through farmers’ fields. But apparently there are lots of paved roads and lots of dirt roads and I didn’t pick the right one. I hiked briskly along for a couple of kilometers until I found myself exactly nowhere. Then I turned around and walked back to town and tried again. Of course, once I found the right road it was obvious and well marked. And the church, when I finally found it, was lovely. (although closed and locked)
I circled the lovely old church and enjoyed the beautiful morning before admitting that I had many more kilometers to walk today, and continued on. Just outside Obanos, two runners I’d seen at the church fell into step beside me and we chatted the rest of the way. They were from San Sebastian on a family vacation in Obanos and seemed tickled to meet a real live pilgrim from the United States. In town, they invited me back to their home for coffee and to meet the rest of the family- Mama and Papa who only spoke Spanish and Basque, two brothers, sisters-in-law, and five adorable kids. Meeting this family and sharing coffee and stories made this day in the Camino really special.
Unfortunately, it also made me really far behind. Mike planned to walk as far as Lorca and see how his knee held out. If he felt good, and it was early enough, he’d continue on to Villatuerta. At Lorca, he texted me saying he planned to continue and asked if it was ok. I said “sure”. I o still had to visit the churches in Puente la Reina, and I had to eat something besides coffee, and I had to catch up.
But… This was the first day in our Camino that the temps approached 100°F. And I had spent so much of the day getting lost, taking side trips, and making new friends, that I was hours behind Mike. While he arrived at the final stopping point by 3:00, I didn’t even make it to Lorca until after 4:00. If spent the last 3 hours hiking in full sun in 99+° and I’d had it.
I stopped at a picnic table next to a vending machine, bought two cold waters and chugged them both and texted, “Is it too late to vote to spend the night in Lorca?” Mike said the Casa Magica Albergue really was magical, so I gritted my teeth and pressed on. I talked to myself, sang to myself, and really picked up the pace just to get out over with. (Wild you like to guess how many rounds of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” it takes to get from Lorca to Villatuerta? Exactly 3.5). I arrived completely spent, with empty water bottles and nothing else in the tank. But it was worth it. The host, Richard, runs the best albergue of our trip so far. For 14€ each, Mike and I had a five-person room to ourselves in a beautiful restored historic home. Richard’s wife cooked a gourmet pilgrim’s menu for another 14€. Delicious salad with homemade dressing, fresh peas soup served with a swirl of herb oil and a crisp garnish, and massive pan of the best paella I’ve ever tasted.
For once, most of the guests spoke English, so we lingered over bottomless glasses of wine and told stories. I might not have planned to walk 21 miles and stagger into the albergue at 5:20pm in a heat wave, but the Camino does throw a few surprises your way. Most of today’s surprises were positive though, so if I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.