Madelyn Given took this photo looking down from the Alto de Perdón mountain range on her Camino pilgrimage.

El Camino: Getting into a Walking Routine

My third night was at Cizur Menor, a 4.5 kilometer walk from Pamplona. After a good night’s sleep I began to feel I was getting into the Camino routine. It was the end of August, and although the hiking was very warm, there was no rain.

The next morning, I left the albergue at 5:50 am: it seemed insanely early, but for me it was necessary, as it became so hot in the afternoon that walking was very difficult. I also left early to assure myself that with a steady pace I would get to an albergue early and have a bed. An hour or hour and a half after the doors opened, the albergue would be full, and the pilgrims coming in after that have no choice but to keep walking, no matter how tired.

Hiking the trail is serious business. Everybody gets up and hikes along at a good clip. The towns are ancient and beautiful; everything that has survived is made of stone masonry. The Roman bridges are beautiful as well, and they clearly were built to last.

I was able to call home today, as I had purchased a new SIM card for my cell phone in Pamplona. I spent a lot of time trying to find a place that sold them, and finally succeeded thanks to a lovely Spanish lady, who sent her teenage son with me to find a place that had SIM cards. She finished up her business and soon joined us. People go out of their way to help you and they are proud of being a part of the el Camino heritage.

After leaving Cizar Menor, I walked up a steep long climb to the top of a ridge of mountains, the Alto de Perdón, where there are about 50 large windmills whirring and creating power. As you can see from the photo I took (at the top of this blog post), as I stood there I could see below me the villages I soon would walk through: Zariquiequ, Uterga, Muruzábal, and Obanos. It was a long descent to the valleys of Navarra. Then I walked over ever-changing terrain: through forests, fields, and pastures where I opened and closed cattle gates. I passed through Zariquiequ, a 14th century village once wiped out with bubonic plague.

The wild flowers were beautiful and carefully tended roses and geraniums filled the window boxes of the houses in the villages. Once in a while I would see scribbled on a sign or wall, “Utreia!”—which translated means “Onward!” Some of the villages are so small there is no place to stay or get something to eat but all have a fountain for the pilgrims to get water to drink. Sometimes there is a noted detour for something worth seeing; today it was Eunate, an eight-sided church, quite likely connected to the Knights of Templar, standing in the middle of a field in the countryside.

Sometimes the legends keep me stimulated and imagining while I am hiking. In the Middle Ages while on a pilgrimage to Santiago, the sister of the Duke of Aquitaine was so moved by the beauty of the village of Obanos that she decided to live the life of a hermit here. The Duke was so furious that he had her killed. Overcome with remorse he went to Santiago himself and spent the rest of his life mourning her. They were both beatified and their silver encrusted skulls are in the Obanos church.

I walked onward, past Obanos, with the highs and lows of a long hike day, to the large town of Puente la Reina, which had a restored medieval arch and ancient bridge with lots of daily activity on the streets. Then I went on through Mañeru, with tiny narrow streets in the oldest section of town, and onward through olive groves and vineyards. Going past a graveyard, I finally arrived at Cirauqui. A farmyard led onto cobbled streets to the oldest part of the village, the Iglesia, and there across the street was the albergue Maralotx. I walked into the albergue and drew a sigh of relief when I received my stamp on the el Camino passport and had a place to stay for the night.