Que horror! The day starts really bad. I am hopelessly lost in Pamplona, struggling to find my way out of town. Two mega blisters are killing me. Yesterday I was flying, today I’m Icarus. After the crash. How the hell am I going to walk 24 km? Every step feels like the Passion of the Christ. My feet keep sliding in my shoes, hurting like crazy. Putting on an extra pair of socks takes some pain away. Yet, every little stone feels like a dagger going through my feet. Meanwhile I walk through endless fields. The wind blows waves in a green ocean. Birds are providing a relaxing soundtrack. Ai-ai-ai, very, ai-ai-ai, beautiful.
In the village of Zariquiegui, I get my mojo back. There is nothing a coffee can't fix. I work my way up to Alto de Perdonto, with its famous parade of iron pilgrims. A classic Camino moment. Wind turbines are turning fast on every rim. The descent is dangerous. Big stones and loose gravel are covering the steep path. The rest of the road is smooth and beautiful. Coleseed fields create a sea of gold. Coffee after coffee I crawl my way to Puente la Reina, the end of this stage.
The Albergue at the entrance of town is a steal: 5 euro. “What’s up?” I ask my roommates as I drop off my backpack. But they just freeze, like deer caught in headlights. They must be Latino pilgrims, freaking out whenever somebody addresses them in English.
I decide to hit the city, step by step, like a cripple. I am scared to loosen my shoes. My feet might just explode. Puente la Reina is a little medieval town with a long, rectangular street plan, cut in half by the Calle Mayor. This charming main street leads to the actual Puente, the most famous bridge along the Camino. The Arga river beautifully reflects its romanesque arches. But not today. The weather is cloudy and miserable. I wisely seek refuge at Jose Martija, the cutest delicatessen shop in the world. It’s a mom-and-pop shop, with old signage, retro scales and local produce on wooden shelves.
I really need to take care of my foot issues. I decide to ask for insoles in a simple shoe store. There’s just one problem: how to explain this in Spanish? I go full retard. “Eh … Ola, mi pies … mucho ai-ai-aiii! Que horror! Solución, por favor.” I point at the soles of my boots. “Un altro. Para interior.” Funny enough, the friendly shop lady seems to understand my Beavis & Butthead Spanish. She comes back with insoles and squeezes them into my sweaty boots. I can feel the result instantly. “Mucho Gracias!” She truly saved my Camino. I repeat the same Borat dialogue at the pharmacy to get some extra bandaids. Bystanders are horrified to see my feet. They must think us pilgrims are totally 'loco.'
Back at the Albergue, I hand wash my clothes. The result won't make it into a laundry commercial. Some teenage cheapskates propose to share the dryer, reducing the price from 3 to 1 euro/person. One hour later I’m happy to get all my clothes back. Dryers can be a Bermuda Triangle, especially for socks. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, every pilgrim has cooked some pasta. A girl offers me some leftovers. Another man gives me bread. I am moved by all this generosity. True Camino spirit. And it saves me another painful scroll into town.
Pamplona to Puenta la Reina is an easy 24 km walk, with just a 300 meter climb to Alto de Perdonto.
Where to sleep?
I slept at the Albergue Padres Reparadores, at the entrance of the old city. 100 beds, 5 euro, open all year from noon till 11 PM. Small beds in 8 persons rooms. The top ones don’t have rails on the side. I was terrified to fall out of bed. Comfort is spartan. Wifi is slow. Kitchen, laundry room with automatic washing machines & dryer.
A couple of interesting churches are sitting along the Calle Mayor. At the end, the medieval bridge is da real thing. The tourist office sits right next to it. Inside, you can see temporary expos and a scale model of the city. Have a bite at Jose Martija’s retro delicatessen shop, right next door. The cutest store ever. Friendly service and super fast Internet.