3: Larrasoaña – Punte la Reina

Videoclip from day 3

3 March 2011. Thursday.

When we woke up in the freesing shelter my clothes and my boots were still wet. The wet shoes and the high pace of the first two days had caused blisters here and there on my feet. I also felt pain in the area of my right tibia. The edge of my tightly tied boots had gnawed on the lower part of my right leg. It was quite painful and I tried to cure it by not tying the boots as hard and not lace them all the way up. In addition my body was tired, and my knees were aching, but the adventure got my adrenaline level up. It was like doping, and although the first steps hurt, my feet went numb after a while. The reason I fought so hard to keep up with Erik and Jürgen was not only my competitive instinct. We had become such good friends by now that it would be very sad not to walk into Santiago together with them. Although I think we all realized that at some point we needed to fulfill  our initial intention to walk alone.

The scruffy pilgrim shelter in Larrasoaña

The scruffy pilgrim-shelter in Larrasoaña

Our morning sleep had been disturbed by a large group who began their morning chores already at five o’clock. It is as if large groups steals all the oxygen in a room, and we decided to try to hike further than the group today, to avoid another crammed up dormitory. They would probably stay the next night in Pamplona approximately 16 km further along the Camino. In any case we wanted to walk further than that today, and none of us felt like touristing in a city.

Horse ahead

Horse ahead

The weather was good today. It was nice to leave the scruffy shelter in Larrasoaña. We had breakfast at Elisabetta’s place. She served a really good breakfast and it was quite emotional to say good bye as it was time for us get back on the road. Hugs and kisses on the cheeks were exchanged. The camino out of Larrasoaña took us through pastures where large work horses were grazing. They did not care about us. The path continued through rural areas. Just like the day before we were among the last to leave the albergue, but after a few kilometers we passed everyone else, with a combination of pride and breathlessness. At a resting area beside the car road towards Pamplona we allowed ourselves one of our all to rare breaks. After the rest the road would continue up a pretty steep climb which felt a bit daunting to me and my sore feet and knees.

Slowly the gap between the three of us grew larger. Jürgen went first, Erik in the middle and I was last. When we reached the outskirts of Pamplona I caught up with Erik. It was just a little over 12 o’clock. At a small square in the oldest part of the city, we someone called our names from a cafe. It was Jürgen who already had eaten a piece of tortilla with a cup of espresso to follow. We joined him and talked about how far we would go today.

We still didn’t fancy to stay the night in Pamplona. Erik said he was tempted to walk really far today. Jürgen suggested that we should continue as to a village called Uterga. A hike of about 16 kilometers. The same distance as we had already put behind us today. I decided to hang on as long as possible, and stop earlier if the strain on my feet would be too overwhelming.

Scallop-shells show the way through Pamplona

Scallop-shells show the way through Pamplona

It was easy to find our way through Pamplona. The city council had placed metal scallops shells every few meters along the entire Caminon route through the town. Soon we were back out in the open fields again. In the distance we saw a high mountain ridge. To my horror I realized that we would have to cross it to get to Uterga. The weather began to get worse. The rain hung in the air and as a precaution we took out our rain gear from our backpacks. In my case, a huge rain poncho in navy blue and yellow that also covered the backpack. Compared with Jürgens expensive and smooth soft-shell jacket and slim backpack cover, I looked and felt like a gigantic amoeba. I had had no problems walking with the poncho in rough weather in the Swedish Abisko mountains, but here, it felt warm, uncomfortable and wrong. The poncho and all it stood for drained me of the last ounces of energy and suddenly I lost the desire to fight against my instincts. My body ached all over. This was not what I traveled to Spain to experience.

– Continue in your own pace, I said to the others. We’ll meet again at the shelter in Uterga.

Lagging behind

Lagging behind

Erik and Jürgen disappeared up the mountain at high speed while I continued at a slower pace. While I slowly made my way up the mountain on muddy trails I tried to regain the independent determination that had inspired me to undertake this adventure in the first place. Now and then frozen drizzle started to fall from the grey skied but thankfully it ended each time before it became too heavy. The village of Zariquiegui came in my way. The windows of all houses were shut. There was nowhere to buy food or water, and the pilgrim shelter still hadn’t open for the season.

Alto de Perdón was the forbidding name of the mountain. After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the highest point where a pilgrim monument with rust-colored metal silhouettes depicts various pilgrims who have crossed over the mountain throughout history. There were saints, penitents and soldiers from different armies.

Pilgrim monument

Pilgrim monument

Until sometime in the 19th century there hade been a shelter up here. Something I would have needed now. I sat down to rest a while, but the wind was hard. Large forests of wind turbines sat on top of the mountain range. Navarra region has invested heavily in wind power, which was easy to understand in the biting wind. But even if the power plants made ​​Navarra almost self-sufficient in electricity, the wind didn’t do anything good for my energy levels. There were no other people in sight, and from my elevated position I could see very far in all directions.

Descending the mountain on the other side was worse than the ascent. The road was paved with large rolling rocks. The strain on my already tired knees was tremendous and the pain got almost unbearable. The friction between my feet and the boots promised new blisters. But finally I had made it all the way down and the road became more easy to walk again. The sun broke through the clouds. The climate seemed warmer on this side of the mountain. I passed fragrant arborvitae and blossoming almond trees, which got me in a better mood.

When the church tower in Uterga eventually appeared behind some hills, I wanted to cheer.

The church tower in Uterga

The church tower in Uterga.

But it turned out it would have been a wasted cheer. When I entered the straight dusty village street, it felt like a scene from a wild west movie. The guidebook tole me that the village had only 256 inhabitants. Now it seemed that all were hiding behind their shut window shutters. I almost expected that a gunman dressed in cowboy gear would step out of a house and challenge me to a duel.

The pilgrim shelter was closed for the season and Jürgen and Erik were nowhere to be seen. A few hundred meters along the village street, I saw a guest house that looked quite nice. Behind the counter of the combined reception and bar a girl was conversing with two beer drinking men. They looked in my direction with expressionless eyes, but said nothing.

– Have a Dutch guy and a German man taken a room here, I asked.

– No, no one stays here right now,  said the pale girl laconically, and returned to her conversation with the beer drinkers.

I tried calling Jürgen and Erik, but their phones were either switched off or out of coverage. But I suspected they had continued to Punte la Reina, another four kilometers further on, according to a road sign I’d passed. If I now had used my normal sense and reasoning, I would have sat down at the bar to eat something, before even considering to continue my trek. The place was nice enough, but to me the atmosphere of Uterga was so repellent that I just wanted to get on. I bought a bottle of water at the bar and proceeded. Four kilometers sounded reasonably manageable.

The road brought me out of the dusty village along more blossoming almond trees. The sun was warm and I felt a little more energized again. Jürgen called and said that they had arrived in Punte la Reina where they were staying at a pilgrim hotel. They had a room with three beds and bathroom with a bathtub. I asked them to reserve the last bed for me. Before we hung up, Jürgen told me the news that the village was six kilometers away rather than four. But okay, I had a hot bath and a soft bed with clean sheets and thick duvets to look forward to.

Before I that however, I had to pass the village Obanos which as if  to spite me, was situated on a high hill. The small village was a Camino landmark. Here a the Camino Frances merged with the route called Camino Aragonés. It also crosses the Pyrenees from France, but through the mountain pass of Samport a bit further to the east. It used to be the most popular route for pilgrims until the 12th century. By then the authorities had eliminated the threat of brigands around Roncesvalles. Since the route from St Jean is a bit more easy to hike, it now became the more popular route and it still is to this day.

My legs carried me uphill, into the village, but the downhill trek on the other side drained me of last reserves. By now I could now see Punte la Reina, but first I had to pass through a small vineyard. I walked with unbelievably short steps now. I barely managed to lift my feet. Then I heard shouting and cheering from the skylight of a red-brown brick building. It was my friends who was trying to give me strength to survive the last few steps to the hotel. I had beaten my own personal record of how far I had walked in one day with more than 10 kilometers. Jürgen met me at the reception of Albergue Jakue. It was said it was run by a monk had vowed to make life easier for pilgrims. Something he, for this pilgrim, succeeded with beyond expectation.

Albergue Jakue in Punte la Reina

Albergue Jakue in Punte la Reina

Jürgen showed me up to the room. There Erik and he had prepared a hot bath for me. There was a washing machine with dryer available at the hotel, so while I crawled into the best bath I have ever taken, my friends gathered my stinking clothes and took them to laundry. I have never appreciated the help of others more.

Later in the evening, however, my body reacted in a frightening way. We sat in the hotel restaurant and had ordered loads of food. But when I would lift the fork and knife, my hands refused to obey me. I got a cramp. It eased a bit, but returned again just as I picked up a bottle of water. The bottle landed on the table with a bang and knocked our glasses over.

– You have magnesium and potassium deficiency, said Jürgen.

He gave me two small bags of white mineral powder that I swallowed and I realized that I had been drinking huge amounts of water during the day, but without getting any minerals. The water the depletes the body of vital minerals, which actually can be quite dangerous. I managed to finish my plate of food and then went straight to bed. It was an amazing feeling to crawl into the clean sheets instead of the sleeping bag. It was only our fourth night on the Camino, but it felt as if we had been walking for ages.

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