Madelyn Given snapped this photo in Larrasoana on her Camino pilgrimage.

The el Camino: Beautiful Scenery

It was only the second morning on the el Camino, but I was up and out of the albergue at 6 am on August 28, 2014. Although during my trip planning I hadn’t expected to be walking in the dark, I had packed a headlamp and extra batteries in case of emergency—and now I was glad to have them as I walked for an hour in the dark, watching carefully to avoid missing the el Camino signs or stumbling on the uneven terrain.

The stars and constellations were magnificent as I looked above the dark unobstructed fields of the countryside. Soon a beautiful dawn greeted me, but since I was heading west I had to turn around to get the spectacular view.

I walked by fields planted with crops of corn and wheat, as well as cows and sheep grazing in pastures. I passed through the main streets of several ancient villages, made it to Zubiri by noon, and decided to keep going to Lorrasoaña.

It was a steep climb out of Zubiri and the path passed between two houses. I crossed a stream by stepping carefully on wobbly stones, then went on through farm lands and more villages—everything was so scenically beautiful! I also made a point of stopping to peek inside the Romanesque churches in the villages.

It was a very hot hour and half walk before I reached Lorrasoaña, where I took the photo at the top of this blog post. I signed in at the albergue, went about my routine of cleaning up after a long hike, then sat at an outside café for a diet coke and a snack to eat. I was welcomed into a group of walkers sitting at a table and soon friendships began to form. Later I would meet them for dinner at a restaurant and then go back to the albergue to sleep.

The albergues are strictly run: at 10 pm, the lights are switched off and all activity ceases. In the darkness of the morning, there are half a dozen early risers who quietly dress and leave before 6 am, when the lights go on at the albergue. I am one of these early risers, eager to start my day. Like a fireman prepared for a fire, I often lay awake waiting to get started, with my pack all set and my clothes laid out, ready to go.

It was on the third morning, after I had departed in the dark and gone about a kilometer along a road, when I realized that I had missed the last el Camino sign (it should have been by the side of a barn, leading to the path). I wasted what seemed like so much time hunting for the path. It was very frustrating. I like every day to go well and this was not a good start!

Each day a goal is set: how many kilometers to walk and how long it will take to get to a destination. In hiking there are the highs and lows of every day; soon something special happens and you forget the moments of aggravation. The hikers are so positive, helpful, and pleasant. They make my day! They appear out of nowhere, often during your most lonely moments, and your attitude changes.

After regaining the trail, I hiked a few more hours to Pamplona. As I approached, I took a long time to walk through the suburbs, past the casa de los conches (a house with scallop shells embedded all over the concrete walls) and across the Puente de Magdalena, and there, sitting at a long table, were some city officials greeting the pilgrims as we walked into their city. I was pleased at such pleasant hospitality.

I thanked the Pamplona officials for their kindness and walked on towards the city walls, where I saw the remains of a leper hospital just outside the massive walled city. I crossed the drawbridge, passed through the first town gate, headed through the ancient inner walls, and entered the second town gate leading to the heart of the old city. I went down the narrow streets famous for “the running of the bulls.” There is so much history everywhere: the city was founded by the Roman General Pompeius, destroyed by Charlemagne, and ruled by kings of Navarra. Near the Gothic cathedral is the Museo de Navarra, a magnificent historic former hospice filled with a wealth of information about Pamplona.

I walked from the old walled city through the streets and modern boulevards bustling with business. I stopped at an ATM for a transaction and walked three blocks before realizing that I had left my trekking poles leaning against the wall there. I ran, yes, ran with my pack all the way back. To my surprise and happiness the poles were still there!

At the time I was hiking with a senior woman from South Africa, who waited for me, and we walked on together. I hiked alone and with others each day. The Camino trail, with its unique albergue system, was unlike anything I had done before. I am a slow, steady hiker; I take few or no breaks, so I was assured of a bed when I arrived at my destination.

The best part of the el Camino was the unexpected surprises that happened on a daily basis. I was blessed with great weather and kind people.

(posted December 9, 2014)