May 24, 2008 Cizur Menor to Cirauqui

My blisters were quite obnoxious yesterday and it was clear to me now that my best solution would be to purchase hiking boots at the next available town. Stepping onto my feet was an act of will, with each step coming with excruciating pain.

I set out in the morning on my own, but as I made my way uphill to the Alto del Perdon, the heights above Pamplona, I came across Stefan and Trevor, my new South African friends. Trevor was suffering some tendonitis, though he’s obviously a very athletic fellow, and he was slowed down by the constant pain in his leg. We walked together up the steep hill, with Stefan providing some great ideas to make the most of my camino. Since this was his second time on this pilgrimage he suggested upcoming sites that I should be certain not to miss.

At the top of Alto del Perdon we looked out across the vast valley that lay before us, seemingly able to see as far as the next large town of Logroño. Fog rolled in from the north and at times the valley was completely hidden in the mist. At the top of the hill, as on many Spanish hills, were large wind generators. These, too, were often obscured in the clouds. The fog covered the trail and hid us from each other and the vast views.

After walking through the towns of Uterga and Obanos we were at the valley floor, walking among small farms through the towns at the outskirts of Navarre, getting ready to welcome the next province of La Rioja. As we came to the town of Punte la Reina, with its historic medieval bridge, we stepped aside as a Corpus Christi procession came by. Women wearing red and men dressed in formal clothes escorted a statue of the Virgin Mary down the street, accompanied by a marching band. What a great introduction to Spanish religious and cultural life!

Among the vineyard a couple of hours after Puente la Reina a beautiful hilltop city came into view — Cirauqui, my goal for the night. The path into town had turned to sticky, red mud and I nearly lost my shoes several times as I slogged my way through the mud. Heading up to the top of the city I came upon the private albergue, just across the plaza from the hilltop church. After laundry and conversation with other pilgrims, followed by de-mucking my shoes in the fountain by the church, I shared a delightful dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Before bed that night in a room with 5-6 other pilgrims in double bunks, I admired the view to the south over the green hills of La Rioja.

May 23, 2008 Larrasoaña to Cizur Menor

Today I determined I’d walk as much as possible with the American girls, Kristen, Cassie, Ginnie and Stacy, enjoying their company as long as possible. The only problem: their plan was to walk 35 km/day — much more than I thought was wise (or that I could actually do).

We set off from Larrasoaña on more forest trails and beside more pasturelands, just as the day before. The only difference today was that it had rained in the night and the path was quite muddy. In many places mud puddles covered the entire width of the track, meaning the only way through was to walk in the mud. The result: blisters.

One rule for hikers that I would learn over and again: keep your feet dry. Moisture softens the skin and any irritation then raises a blister. As my feet got increasingly wet I could feel “hot spots” developing on my heels and ankles and between my toes. There really was little choice other than to continue, but as I walked farther I began more and more to doubt the wisdom of the REI salesman in Seattle who’d said I only needed “walking shoes,” not actual hiking boots. With waterproof hiking boots my feet would only have to deal with perspiration. With low-cut walking shoes there was no way I could keep water off my feet.

We continued to walk and to visit together, with me taking turns with each of the American girls to learn about their lives and find out what had brought them on the camino. They shared about their boyfriends and their future vocations and I came to enjoy and respect these determined and intelligent young women.

The walk took us up hills, by a highway rest stop, down hills, and finally across a bridge into the Basque town of Pamplona. By the time we reached the heart of downtown Pamplona the sun had come out, so we all decided to shop for food and have a picnic right on the busy sidewalk at the top of town. We laid out our meal and enjoyed watching the locals look quizzically at this group of ragged pilgrims eating lunch on a busy downtown sidewalk.

After lunch the girl were determined to dry out their clothes. They’d heard about a shower/laundry facility in town, so we asked directions to a modern facility that offered us showers and laundry. Before long our clothes were dry and we were all ready to head on to the next goal. For the girls it was Cirauqui. For me, tired as it was, it would be an albergue outside Pamplona at the suburb of Cizur Menor. I joked that the translation of Cizur Menor was “Little Caesar’s” and I would buy them each a pizza when we arrived. We made our way past the University of Navarre (for a stamp on our credenciales), up the hill to Cizur Menor, and we sad our sad good byes, recognizing we might not ever see each other again.

I made my way into the albergue, certain I’d spend the night alone, and immediately saw the two South Africans. After treating my blisters I walked with Stefan and Trevor to a local restaurant and had my first of many dinners with these two, soon-to-be-dear friends.