Camino â€“ Day 3
Buenos dias amigos!
Today’s stage took us from the historic city of Pamplona to the historic town of P……… To be fair, pretty much everything on the Camino involves going from one historic place to another, so not too much should be read into this.
This day was the first big test of a pilgrims fitness and commitment to the big Man in the sky this side of the Pyrenees. Ever since leaving Roncesvalles, the Camino veterans had been voicing the opinion that the first two days were a mere warm up for the mountain just the other side of Pamplona. This had been gnawing at the back of my mind for 2 days as I was totally buggered after day one and needed a litre of sangria to even contemplate physical movement after day 2! The thought of all that being simply a warm up was frankly disturbing in the extreme and wasn’t helped at all by the 6:30 am start (to break the back of the mountain before the sun and vultures rose – oh God!!) and an Olympic sized hangover created by the lubricating sangria.
We had met a middle aged French woman, amongst various others, the previous day, who had been wandering about Pamplona’s main square trying to find something to eat. We had passed her during the day so recognised her as one of our fellow disciples. All we know about her is that she is lovely, married with 3 kids to a husband she loves and is walking the Camino on her own. She was worried about "La Montagne grande" as well, and in a fit of Sangria induced bravado, I had gallantly agreed to help her if she got into trouble. We met her at a small bar just below the start, and with a German girl called Kirsten and German guy called Brendt, we started to climb.
The climb is about 8 kms and it sorts the men from the boys! Alain, stung by my words of perceived scorn yesterday, leapt up the hill like a greyhound after a rabbit and I was pretty much left to sweat it out! I felt like I was back in a school show I did once, The Man From La Mancha, as I toiled and sweated and cursed my way up that bastard cliff, all the time looking to the summit where a giant windmill turned silently and never seemed to get any closer!
From time to time Alain would stop to let me catch up before driving forth once more with a kind of "Whose hurting more now, fat boy!!" type of swagger. As I continued to press for the summit, I passed dead and dying fellow crusaders, being cradled by loved ones in their final moment, all victims of God’s walk: Mary, the washing helper and her boyfriend, 2 German chicks from Roncesvalles, the mute Japanese girl who walks with a plastic bag and the 4 grinning French Canadians we stayed with in Zubirri.
Then, suddenly, I was at the top – oh happy days, oh happy bloody days!!! Alain was there already and getting ready to descend to a small village the other side of this Everest-esque behemoth. Dominique, who I’d so naively offered to help, was finishing lunch and probably a siesta as well! I hobbled to a bench, ripped off my boots, and ignored them both as I inspected the blistered carnage of my left foot! Not good, not good at all, 3 of the angry little red buggers sitting there screaming at me, "Well what did you expect?!"
I patched myself up and the next hour was spent descending the other side with Kirsten, who was on her first day and who was carrying at least 5 kg’s too heavy a bag. I suppose I could have convinced her to dump some stuff, but the selfish side of me realised she was the only one of our party walking slower than me and that was not something to be messed with or altered. I lent her my stick, which sorted the conscience side of things, and we staggered on to meet Alain for lunch. Kirsten decided to press on for another 2 kms and that was the last we saw of her. Dominique saved her a bed at the refuge but as yet she has not turned up.
Alain and I walked on for another 7 kms after lunch and thankfully the land was flat and we made good time. I was actually quite pleased at my recovery rate – make no mistake I was shattered beyond belief – but I was still at least moving. We arrived at the hostel about 2:30 pm and collapsed in a heap. The place was actually quite nice and even had a pool! OK, you had to walk 350 meters up a steep hill to get there which was frankly evil and unnecessary. There were showers that worked, toilets that flushed and didn’t belch toxic waste at you and a pilgrim meal for 8 euros which you didn’t have to walk 6 miles to eat! Cleuso was here, but Alain spotted him in time so that we could swap dormitories with some unsuspecting Swedish couple who wanted the view and got ourselves a peaceful night (God was gracious).
I will say adios now, my friends (if anyone is actually reading this). I’ve pushed my carcass and my wits to the limit today and now I need to sleep and drink before tomorrow’s easier, but undoubtedly still traumatic, fourth stage.
Adios los amigos and buen Camino!
Regressing to a point earlier in time: When in Canada during the summer I’d gone to Blaine, Washington to renew my passport. In order to renew my passport, they required that I send my birth certificate and other information with the application. I didn’t have my old passport. It had expired some years before. I was told it could take from six to eight weeks, but I had enough time. I also found that I could check the status of the passport by going to a web site and filling in certain information. Celinda was going to let me know when the passport showed up, which it hadn’t by the time I got home in early September.
The web site said the passport should have arrived on or around the 22nd of August. I got home the day before Labor Day weekend and the following Tuesday, when the government office reopened, was for all intents and purposes a Monday. Tuesday I spent hours on hold, sent multiple e-mails (which I got a response to after arriving in Spain) and found through some State Department information that I’d have to fly to Texas and take proof of who I was, if I wanted a replacement. I had no proof of who I was, everything required was lost somewhere in the mail.
On Wednesday, I finally got in touch with a real live person and I was told they had to contact the passport division and I couldn’t. The passport office had 72 hours in which to contact me by e-mail or phone. The first airline ticket was for Thursday, the next day, and it looked like the entire trip was about to go down the tube.
About an hour later, more or less, a lady called me from the passport issuing office in Charleston, SC. I told her my problem, and she said she’d try to get it all taken care of and on FedEx Next Day that afternoon. It was already afternoon there and she couldn’t make any promises. But, before she could do that I had to go to the post office and get a tracking number and send her the names of the people working at the PO who I’d I talked to.
I ran out the door, jumped into the pickup, went to the PO, got the information and e-mailed it off to South Caarolina as soon as I got back home. She called me back and said everything was in process, but it was late and might not be out that day. I thanked her, and hoping that lightening wouldn’t strike twice, began seriously looking for airline ticket number two.
I contacted Delta and asked them if the first ticket could be changed to another date. They said no. I asked how much it would cost for another ticket and they said,”$2200.00.” The original was $675.00. I didn’t feel like it would be possible to go, if the price was that high. I began checking around.
I found a travel agency in Texas that brokered tickets and was able to get a round trip, on Delta, same filght, probably the same seat, for $865.00. Higher than the first, but considerably less than Delta’s quote or any other quote I could find. Intratours is the name of the company and they’re hard to find. The reason? I found out later that since most of the airlines had filed bankruptcy and the government, translated taxpayer, is subsidizing them, the government has made it illegal for anyone who brokers or wholesales tickets to advertise in normal ways which includes posting ads on the internet. Now tell me, does that sound like some bureaucratic buggaboo?
I had to go to BookingBuddy, then Travelgrove where I found Intratours and finally to the Intratours web site. I must have checked 100 or more sites before I found one I felt I could afford to buy a second ticket from. The passport didn’t show up until Friday, the day after the first plane flew. And, I didn’t book the second ticket until it did. It wasn’t possible to book anything sooner that 72 hours from that time. So, I flew out on the following Tuesday, September, 13th.
Back from time regression.
I figured that James probably went straight from the walk to bed. He’d likely call that evening our time, tomorrow morning in Spain or tomorrow morning our time, when his day was finished. On the other hand, he may have found that cell phones didn’t work where he was. If I didn’t hear from him before I left in the morning, I’d go west 150K from Pamplona and start walking east, back towards Pamplona.
I’d had very encouraging responses from some people on the update list, as far as walking for their health was concerned and hoped everyone, for their health, walked as often as they could.
7:32 PM. Phone call? Nada! 9:30 PM. Not yet. I’d be up early and would try to send an e-mail off at the last minute. Whatever was supposed to be, would be. Que sera, sera.
September 13th, 4:39 AM. The phone rings, “I’m up, I’m up”, I think as I walk into clothes and hangers in the closet, instead of out the bedroom door and down the hall and into the office where all my notes and the computers are. Once in the office I pull the curtain closed. The closest neighbors are a couple hundred yards away. It’s early and barely light. But it had been hot during the night and we’d left the windows open and the curtains drawn back for ventilation. IAnd, never have liked sleeping in clothes.
Even in the near dark and at that hour, standing in front of the window while talking on the phone in the nude is a little unsettling. I could tell it was James because he said, “Lahrry (with an H), are you awake”?
“Well my eyes are open.”
“HAH, HAH, HAH, must be about 4:00 in the morning there.”
“That’s OK, the alarm was set to go off in about 15 minutes.”
“OK buddy, you have to make a few changes to your plans. I got your e-mail and sent you one, but here’s the plan. We just left Pamplona yesterday, so you’ll need to meet us in Estella”
“Castella or Estella? Spell it for me, James.”
“Estella, E-S-T-E-L-L-A. (James doesn’t speak Spanish and treated the double L like two L’s and not as a Y like it would be in Spanish) Great walk through the mountains. You’re going to love this. We’re looking forward to seeing you.”
“I’m looking forward to being there.”
“Go to the railway station in Madrid and ask them which is best, for you to go to Pamplona or to go to Logroño, because you’ll need to take the bus, or at the worst a taxi, to Estella. Estella is a little town and the train doesn’t go there.”
“OK, not a problem. I’ll be there tomorrow night. Any place special I need to meet you, or just start walking around and we’ll find each other?”
“See if you can find the refugio, the alberque, but if not, it’s a small town and we’ll meet up. Looking forward to this and walking the rest of the way with you and Alain. Looking forward to you being with us, see you tomorrow night.”
“OK, I’ll get on the e-mail right away and be on the plane in El Paso, then Atlanta and in Madrid in the morning. Where can I change some dollars to Pesetas?”
“Everything in Europe is Euro’s now, no more pesetas but you can change them at the airport in Atlanta or Madrid.”
“Shows what I know. Too early to think anyway. See you in a day or so.”
I was back on adrenaline, so there wasn’t any sense going back to bed. Besides, I had to get on the e-mail, get the rest of my morning done, breakfast made, lunch put together and my airline check -on stuff taped shut.
I could’ve gotten it all in my backpack, except last time on the flight to British Columbia, they took a 1/2” end wrench away. I guess they thought I was going to hijack the plane by attacking someone with the wrench or maybe crawl out through a window while we were in flight and take the wings off. The security people have no sense of humor, so I didn’t bother to tell them that I’d been involved with martial arts for 42+ years; they’d probably have wanted to take my hands and feet and that would’ve been a problem for all of us.
It appeared there were times when the Internet would be accessible, so I should be able to update at least when I had the energy and my feet didn’t hurt too much. I told those on my update list if they wanted to forward the updates to friends, please do, just don’t make any changes, add or delete anything. They needed to consider it copyrighted material and treat it as such. (As it turned out with the sticky computer keys, the strange characters on the keyboards and being on the clock with people breathing down your neck, there were so many typos and other mistakes that who would want to forward it anyway.
Buses, planes and trains here I come. Anda, anda, hasta luego de El Camino
De Santiago. Walk!
JAMES Camino â€“ Day 4
Buenos Dias Los Amigos
Today’s stage took us from Puente la Reina to a small town called Estella. This is, I was reliably informed, an easy and straightforward walk after the nightmare climb up Mordor (Alto de Perdon) yesterday.
I am fast becoming aware, however, that everything to do with the Camino is relative. When someone says there is a small hill coming, you can bet your bottom dollar there is a massive escarpment to be conquered. When someone says there is an easy day ahead, the best you can hope for is that, come the end of play, you won’t be inspecting the contents of your lungs on the floor of the refugio as one of your more experienced colleagues talks about finding a gym in town! Today was totally true of this assessment and my feet were so sore by the time I reached the final destination, the sight of a super model wearing a sign saying "I like fat blokes" wouldn’t have stirred a feather of interest!
The start of the day, however, is always fun, especially before you leave the refugio, because you get to see all the different people preparing for the Camino. Today was no different as I staggered into the shower block at 6:45 am, trying to convince myself that the German machine-gun nest firing at my feet would soon stop to count their victims. Junky (so nicknamed by me, even though I am not sure he is entirely happy with his Camino tag) was preparing for the day much as I expect a Japanese Kamikaze pilot did to attack Pearl Harbour! Junky is Japanese, 64 years old and probably the most under-prepared, over-equipped pilgrim ever to don the cloak of Camino fervour! The Camino standard for bags is 10 kgs and Junky started at Pamplona with 19 kgs in a bag that wouldn’t look out of place on a lunar mission.
As I attempted to find the least moldy part of the shower, Junky was reprogramming his GPS system (complete with watch that acts as readout) whilst wearing a Japanese flag bandanna and practicing the frankly unbelievable breathing routine which he claims comes from Samurai descendants and which increases body efficiency. All I can say is that for some reason you accept all of this type of eccentricity because there are so many types of people here you just can’t do anything else.
I’ve come to realise that the Camino has several quirks, all of which you wouldn’t expect when you start out on your religious mission of enlightenment. The first of these is that you soon learn that, no matter how bad going uphill is, it is twice as bad to come downhill. The pressure and jarring on your feet and joints is nothing short of traumatic.
The other thing I would like to point out at this stage is the flies! Oh boy – the flies are my best ally and best friend on the Camino! This may sound somewhat strange, but it is a holy twist of fate that pairs the common fly with an overweight disciple. The flies make sure that you don’t stop, it’s as simple as that! The deal is that if you don’t stop, they just swarm about you, but if you do stop they dive to attack much the same as Junky would! They are bloody everywhere and are without doubt the most irritating thing I have ever encountered. You feel like you are part of the Blitz as you look over your shoulder to inspect the swarming clouds of Messcherschmidts and Stukers hunting you from behind.
Celinda and I left the house at 6:45 AM. The drive to El Paso is through high desert and to the East. The sunrise was magnificent and I hoped it was an omen of good things to come. I only wished that I hadn’t packed my camera, it would’ve made a great picture.
The freeway was the same Mad Max mass of moving metal, lane changes and people trying to get somewhere before they left. A policeman sitting under an overpass got into the act and another picked one off who made an off ramp to the right from the far left lane.
When we got to the airport we had almost three hours until my plane flew. We picked a few red Bird of Paradise seeds off plants growing in the parking lot, then I took my backpack and cardboard box to the Delta check-in station. The man checking me in asked where I was going. When I expanded into the information about the Camino, he shook my hand, then wanted to know more and wrote down the name of the El Camino, so he could look it up on the internet. He seemed almost as excited about the trip as I was.
Celinda and I sat in the airport and talked until about two hours before my flight. After hugs and kisses, I went up the ramp to security. This time it was easy, with shoes unlaced and knife in the check in items, I breezed through without a problem. Shoes back on I went to sit in the waiting room, read the Spanish phrase book I’d brought, but never used after El Paso, and began a waiting game that would continue at every airport, train station and bus stop until I got home.
We flew on time from El Paso to Atlanta. The dark tan desert turned to light tan flat lands with not a mountain, hill or even a bump as far as the eye could see, and one can see a long way from 35,000’. Below, there were small squares, or what appeared small from that height. One could only guess that in the squares were houses and one could only wonder why anyone would chose to live there. We live in the high desert but there are mountains around to break the landscape‘s monotony.
The further east we went the more clouds there were, clouds sitting on a dark blue sea of air. As time passed, the bottoms of the clouds grew darker and lines of rain could be seen falling to the earth below. Heat and humidity drove the tops of the clouds upward and they took on the appearance of white sauce in a pan, with burnt black bottoms and bubbling tops.
As the plane banked to the right a picture of Snoopy came to mind, flying through the tops of thunderheads, lips curled back in a smile, ears streaming out behind.
The dark blue sea of air turned to gray, the color of glacial melt flowing into a pristine lake. We banked again, Snoopy would be proud. We continued turning in a holding pattern while a thunderstorm passed over the Atlanta airport. Turning and banking we waited our turn to spiral down. Below, other airplanes could be seen circling and waiting. Another 15 minutes went by before we began our descent. I hadn’t been that far east since I was five or six years old. Visiting Europe would be a first for me, a first.
We touched down with a few bumps, leftover from the thunderstorm. Clocks lined the walls of the airport and when we disembarked I had two hours of waiting for the flight to Madrid, which would be eight plus hours long. Others were walking too, probably trying to get the kinks out after a long flight and hoping to alleviate some of the pain. Walking the corridors of the airport you nod and acknowledge the walkers who you’ve seen before. Maybe they were burning off impatience while waiting for a connecting flight.
The plane from El Paso was about 60% booked. Every seat on the plane to Madrid was filled. The aisle seat gave me a chance, between carts of food and beverages and passengers going to the bathrooms, to stretch my legs a little. Still, flying tourist when you have long legs is like jamming Too Tall Jones into a space better suited for Little Jack Horner. A stewardess brought the menu and between selecting my meal and writing my notes, my plan was to study some Spanish; that plan never materialized.
The flight to Madrid was scheduled to be 8 hr 20 min, if no thunderstorms kept us in a holding pattern. I knew my knee caps would be sore by the time we touched down from rubbing on the seatback in front. With my seat back reclined as far as it would go and the blanket pulled up over my shoulders, I tried to get some sleep. I did manage to get five or so hours before awakening very stiff, with a kink in my neck. Some sleep was better than none but it wasn’t what could be considered “high quality.”
I did some Qi Gong breathing techniques and some self-massage, all of which helped immensely. The only part I couldn’t work the kinks out of was the thoracic section of my back. By the time we got to Madrid I was more than ready to be on the ground and moving.
I wondered if flight attendants ever got used to seeing bleary eyed people with bad breath and uncombed hair, walking to the bathrooms like stickmen. A couple across the aisle drank four or five mixed drinks as soon as we were airborn. They were asleep or whatever, most of the way to Madrid and looked pretty hungover by the time we were preparing to land. We had a continental breakfast, which I’d never learn to like or get used to for the whole Camino trip. The man in the next seat lived in Madrid and confirmed James’s information about Astocha station.
I’m always amazed how much luggage can be pulled from the bowels of a plane. Turnstiles rotated slowly while people impatiently tap their toes. My check-ons always seem to be among the last to be spit through the hole in the wall, so I walked the baggage claim area to loosen up and burn off my adrenaline. During the trip, I tried being the first to check my baggage, the last my baggage and also tried to check it somewhere in the middle. No matter what I tried, my check-ons were still one of the last to come through the plastic flaps.
Day one for me was about to start but first there were trains and buses.