I get up, and nothing gets me down. Not even the scary sign, just outside Roncesvalles saying 'Santiago de Compostela: 790 km’. After the Hell of the Pyrenees, today should be a walk in the park, one endless descent. Easy-peasy. The miles are flying. I’m enjoying every meter. The landscape seems painted by Claude Monet. Bright greens against a crystal blue sky. Shimmering light peeping through luscious forests. Little dirt roads cutting through rolling hills. This is postcard Camino with wild horses watching my every move.
I have the legs but my left shoulder is hurting like crazy. I keep hearing the same words, getting louder with every step: ‘Make-that-backpack-lighter.’ For miles and miles, I go through every item in my bag. Do I really need this? Can I live without that? Pain or no pain, I’m on a roll. Every time I see a fellow pilgrim on the horizon, I walk straight towards him. I’m unstoppable. Around lunch, I meet up with Lauren who started 2 hours before me. Hasta la vista, baby. I soon reach Zubiri, the first of many charming villages along the Arga river. Larrasoana - the traditional stop of stage 2 - is 5 kilometres further downstream. It’s 1 PM, way too early to call it quits. What the hell am I going to do all afternoon in this cul-de-sac? A Shakespearian dilemma unfolds. To stop or not to stop? That is the question.
I decide to move on, trying to get as close to Pamplona as possible, following the Arga river. The scenery is breathtaking. The sound of the mountain water is my only companion. Summit fever is growing in my head. Can I do 2 stages in 1? Jump right to Pamplona? I have the legs but what about time? If I arrive too late, all beds might be taken. I switch to an even higher gear.
The roads are empty now, only one pilgrim keeps following me. “Is this the way to Pamplona?” I ask him in Zuriain. “You want to go to Pamplona?” he responds in disbelief. “Yeah, it’s only 10 more km, we can make it. But hey, up to you.” I continue my journey. No time to waste. It’s 3 PM, I really need to start thinking of a place to sleep. I don't want to push my luck. My feet are starting to feel like yoghurt. The path is never ending: up, down, up, down. Maybe those 10 kilometres were just a figure of speech.
I cross the lovely bridge of Arre with its amazing Albergue inside an old watermill. A dream place to sleep. But summit fever fever has gotten hold of me. Pamplona or bust! I must be really close. I’ve already reached the outskirts. It’s weird, after just 2 days on the Camino, the city feels hostile. Like I’m transported from the Middle Ages to the 21st century in just one second. What are those fast moving things again? Oh yeah, busses. The suburbs are getting more depressing with every step. I pass a gypsy family dismantling an old fridge. Pieces are flying all over the pavement. There’s no way I’m staying here. Keep going! The concrete floor is killing me. My shoes seem a little too big. My feet are sliding back and forward. Not much, just enough to cause serious damage. I can feel something’s burning. Where the hell is Pamplona?
I finally reach the medieval Puenta de la Magdalena leading to the city centre. It’s 5 PM when I walk into the Casa Paderborn. I already know the verdict that’s awaiting me: ‘Completo.’ Now what? I’ve walked 46 km and I am simply dead. The German Hospitalero feels kinda sorry for me. “Let me call the other albergues.” Alas, completo too. Damn, I’m really screwed. “Hold on” says Klaus “I know a place nearby.” Meanwhile, my pilgrim doppelgänger walks into the room. “Are you also looking for a place?” asks the Hospitalero - “Si” - “Great, this place still has beds.” My whole body fills with happiness. That typical warm glow, like when you find your wallet back. I could kiss our German saviour.
With heavy feet we walk towards Hostel Xarma, right around the corner. It’s slightly more expensive: 15 euro. Not that we care, we’re so tired, we’re willing to pay 100. My feet have blisters, the size of a small African nation. They can start a federation with the blisters of my pilgrim companion. We are both crippled. But when in Pamplona, do as the Pamplonians. It’s Thursday night, Fiesta time! With baby steps, we manage to limp downtown. The inner city is booming. Everybody seems drunk. Women are screaming. Boys are pumped up, looking for trouble. We’re lucky to find 2 seats, right at the counter of a tapas bar. Tonight is jeuvepintxos: €2 pintxos come with a free portion of booze, which I pass to my companion. His name is Ernesto, a Venezuelan living in Paris. Santé, Amigo. We both managed to walk 46 km from Roncesvalles to Pamplona. And in the next few days, we’ll both pay the price for it.
Don’t try to be a hero. Walking from Roncesvalles to Pamplona is stupid. You’ll be crippled by blisters for weeks.
Where to sleep?
A bed in a 6 persons dorm at Xarma Hostel costs 15 euro, including breakfast. There’s free cake, coffee and tea in the kitchen; a comfy sitting area and a garden. The owner is extremely helpful. A great alternative - walking distance from the centre - when all the cheaper albergues are full. Avoid the San Fermin festival, July 7-14, when the whole city goes ballistic for the bull runs. Hotels will be totally overbooked and overpriced.
Pamplona is a true fortress-city dominated by military architecture, like the star shaped citadel. I wasn’t that impressed. I guess one needs to be in a Hemingway-an Fiesta mood. The city centre is filled with bars. The nearby neo-classical facade of the cathedral hides a gothic interior. Deep scratches on every wall remind us of dangerous bull horns.
Next episode: ‘Day 3 to Puenta la Reina - A bridge too far.’