Some days you wake up feeling crabby, completely unaware of what delights await around the bend. That would describe me on the morning of the 5th day of my walk.
Even when I’m not aware of it, “goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life.” Sometimes you just have to look for it.
Aside from being chilly and unheated, I discovered another drawback to the hostel in Villava: its lack of walls. At 5:45am, I directed numerous uncharitable thoughts toward the pilgrims who arose early and crinkled their plastic bags long enough to wake me before departing into the pre-dawn.
It was so cold and damp. I dressed hurriedly. In the half-dark, I collected my mostly-dry laundry from the line in the monastery’s grassy courtyard. Then I swapped a handful of jingling coins for some shockingly hot vending machine coffee just to warm up. In the silence of this ancient stone building, a fellow pilgrim and I exchanged a grin over the blessing of morning caffeine.
After the breakfast Marisela graciously provided – yogurt, bread, and orange juice, we got on our way at the astonishingly early hour of 7am.
Our destination lay just 4km (2.5mi) to the west and we were in no hurry.
We dawdled along Villava’s thoughtfully-designed malecón that graces one bank of the Arga River beside its rapids. Before we got walking in earnest, we took in the scenery, immersed in the roaring sounds of the river and the bright morning sunshine. As the day dawned clear, a host of thrushes sang from the treetops.
Beginning to follow the arrows, it became clear that we’d stayed the night on the very outskirts of Pamplona. The scenery began to contrast sharply with the forests we’d enjoyed for so many days thus far. Instead of trees, tall buildings sprouted up, along with parks and bus stops, shops and apartment units.
I marveled that although we were surrounded by glass and concrete, we were still on The Way. We still found yellow arrows painted on the sidewalk and bright tiles of yellow and blue affixed to the buildings we passed.
Walking through these populated areas, I noticed numerous political messages. In tunnels and alleys, colorful graffiti advocated the separation of Basque country from Spain. Most US graffiti is made up of gang tags and various swear words, so I was impressed by the purposeful contrast. I later learned that there have been years of violent efforts to make Basque country an independent nation.
In the windows of houses, I also saw signs featuring scissors with a red slash across them. Was someone anti-sewing? I knew very little about the political climate in Spain beyond their struggling economy. I learned more from the German perspective later in my walk, and more yet from Google when I returned home. The symbol conveys the desire not to cut essential services like health care and education in the wake of Spain’s financial crisis.
Finding accommodation in high places
Where Katrin and I had been the naturalist guides in the forest, Marisela’s gifts shone as a native city girl.
Despite Brierley’s best efforts to get us lost, Marisela navigated us through the city with ease while Katrin and I gawped at the noise, traffic, and urban-ness of it all. With Marisela’s intervention, a local woman gave us numerous good suggestions for places to stay in the area.
Our goal was a nice hotel within our collective budget. You can get surprisingly lush digs when you split it three ways.
Before we knew it, we were standing before the doors of Pamplona’s only 5 star hotel, La Perla.
“Should we go in and just see what it costs?” I asked.
“Do you think we can go in looking like this?” Katrin countered, concerned.
“Let’s go,” said Mari.
And with that, Marisela opened the door, and we shlepped in behind her, dusty, raggedy, and toting our bulky-looking packs into this gleaming pearl of a hotel. I felt totally out of place, but a euro is a euro. The gentleman behind the desk in his suit and tie was polite and professional. We quickly learned that it was out of our price range, but I did get to use their lovely restroom. 5 star!
Next, we went to Hotel Maisonnave, a downgrade to 4-stars, and hit the jackpot: A lovely room with a just-right price. Dropping my pack on the floor, I slumped onto my bed. The sheer ecstasy of laying down on this firm, cushy surface was more pleasure than I could bear. Every muscle in my body relaxed. I was struck speechless, only occasionally moaning with bliss. I might have drooled a little.
Leaving our bags, we went to find lunch and ended up sitting outside on the main plaza at Cafe Iruña. 90 years earlier, we might have rubbed elbows here with Ernest Hemingway. We sipped our beverages in the sunshine, Mari and Katrin looking like movie stars in their sunglasses.
Thanks to Marisela, I managed to avoid ordering morcilla (blood sausage) for lunch and instead had a delicious salad with the strangest noodles on top. They were tasty and proteinaceous? On closer inspection, I thought for a brief moment they were worms (gag), but I discovered later in a supermarket that they’re a type of seafood called angula. Que aventura!
We sipped our wine and basked (Basqued?) in the sunshine. We played Spot the Pilgrim. We reunited with the lovely Korean couple, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, who spoke little English but were incredibly sweet.
My people-watching extended to the center of the plaza with several long benches where the older locals come to chat in the afternoon. All the women all sit together in their long, dark skirts, their expressions conveying a wide range of emotions as they talk with their hands and eyes and bodies. I got the feeling they’d been meeting like this every day for hundreds of years in the very same spot.
After lunch, we all took turns taking those long, luxurious hot showers I’d been daydreaming about. Not a single worry that it would run out. Not a glimmer of fear of getting scalded or frozen when a toilet was flushed. I suspended my environmental streak for 20 blessed minutes. Never have I felt more grateful for abundant water.
From pilgrim to tourist (if only for a few hours)
After getting clean, Marisela napped while Katrin and I explored the city. We treated ourselves to gelato and strolled through a nearby park with deer and all kinds of fowl (including a white peacock) on display. We walked along paths bordered with every color flower imaginable, tulips in full bloom, and tiny boxwood scroll hedges. We lounged in the sun next to cherry trees full of pink blossoms, their petals falling like snowflakes to the sidewalk.
On our return jaunt, I found a shop where I could replace my scallop shell — happiness!
Taking Marisela’s lead, we returned to the hotel for naps. I marveled at my ability to sleep during the day. When a whole city shuts down for siesta, it’s hard to find reasons to keep going. It’s cultural permission to stop and rest. I wondered if there would be a way to incorporate this insight into my life at home. What would it be like to rest mid-day?
Happy birthday, Katrin!
The day just seemed to go from one pleasure to the next. What better way to celebrate Katrin’s 26th birthday than more fun and relaxation? When I’d asked her the previous day what would make her birthday special, having our company was her only wish.
After our nap, we went out on the town to see the sights and fête our friend. We first went out for tapas and enjoyed truly talented street musicians (flute and cello) as we noshed. We looked at some of the historic buildings and walked down the very street where bulls run.
Eventually we made our way to a bright, bustling Italian restaurant for Katrin’s birthday dinner. We gorged on pasta and wine and dessert and toasted our gentle friend. I gave her a bracelet with a silver angel, explaining that she’d been a Camino angel to me. She told us it was among her favorite birthdays.
At sunset, we walked around the fortress park and snapped photos of ourselves in our coincidentally matching turquoise jackets. Grinning, we looked like a team. The “hairy spider” was our mascot.
“Life is good,” I wrote in my journal that night.
At this point in the journey, we were 70km into a 800km journey.
This rest day in Pamplona was something we had been looking forward to for days and I soaked up every last drop, even as I worried about the next stage and its physical demands. But each day takes care of itself, and that night, I enjoyed one of my best sleeps of those entire 7 weeks. A real bed! And no crackling plastic bags!