4: Punte la Reina – Estella (22)

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4 March 2011. Friday.

It was great to have a real hotel breakfast the next morning and to put on freshly washed and throughly dry clothes. But my body was still very tired. Thankfully Jürgen and Eric also felt the echo of yesterday’s almost marathon length hike and we agreed that Estella is “only” 22 km away would do as today’s goal.

Back in the hotel room, I looked with trepidation on my backpack. Would I cope? But when I had put it on,  I noticed to my surprise that it felt better with it on than without. It was as if the body had adapted to the extra weight. Before we set off down the small medieval street through Punte la Reina however, my body seemed to whimper “You must be joking. Surely you can’t mean that we’re going to walk again today?” But that we should.

The bridge that gave Punte la Reina it's name Queen's bridge.

The bridge that gave Punte la Reina it’s name: Queen’s bridge

I made ​​it clear to the others that I had to walk at my own pace today as well and they immediately rushed off along the Camino, in a swirl of dust. It was a going to become really tough day for me. A short distance outside Punte la Reina an incredibly long uphill trek began. It was just possible for me to climb it, but later, on the paved streets of the villages my legs hurt badly. The swelling on my right lower leg cut like knives. The only open place to purchase food was a tiny bakery. There was nowhere to sit down and have a break. It was a bit odd that the owners did not take advantage of the business opportunity in setting up some tables and serve coffee, but apparently there were too few pilgrims this time of year to justify it. This village, like many others was situated on top of a hill and the downhill way out of it was really painful for my knees.

A classic camino arrow. They are everywhere.

A classic camino arrow. They are everywhere.

– You would have needed a walking stick, I heard someone say behind me. It was a man, much older than myself who slowly and effortlessly walked passed me, while I slowly negotiated my tormented body down the hill. I came to an ancient Roman bridge that was in severe disrepair. The way up on it mostly consisted of wet mud and scattered boulders. Normally I could have jumped from stone to stone, but now I literally had do get down on my hands and knees to pass the antique bridge. How the hell would this end? I was barely able to move forward at all, and it was only my fourth day on the camino.

Almond trees in bloom

Almond trees in bloom

As I descended from the village of Lorca – also located on a hill a few painful kilometers further along the road – I sat down on a bench under a tree and took off my boots. I was muddy, wet and miserable. The blister on my right toe had burst and the swelling of the tibia had increased. The elastic of my sock had made a deep impression on my skin, which looked a bit scary. I consulted my guidebook to see if there were any closer allergies to stay in for the night. Just then Jenny walked by. I had last met her at the dinner at Elisabetta’s in Larrasoaña. She walked together with a tall, thin Danish girl named Laura. The first fellow Scandinavian I met on the trek. She had started her camino trek in Pamplona. The two women had spent the night in the deserted guest house in Uterga and now had caught up with me even though having walked at least six kilometers further than me today. Now they looked anxiously at the debris of a hiker that was me. A far cry from the cocky fast walker I had pretended to be, a few days earlier. We talked a bit and just when they were about to continue, a thought crossed my mind that was going to save the day.

– Do you have any pain killers to share? Something anti-inflammatory, I asked.

I usually never take painkillers, but this also was a situation I usually didn’t find myself in. To my relief, Jenny pulled out a packet of ibuprofen tablets from her backpack. I immediately swallowed two of the pills she gave me. Then I rested some more while the young women continued their walk. The difference I felt as the tablets took effect was absolutely incredible. In my bag I then found some energy pills that I had bought back in Sweden and then forgotten about. Suddenly my legs carried me again and I managed to regain my normal pace. Just before Estella, I caught up with the Jenny and Laura again. Laura wondered asked me timidly if I shouldn’t  keep my tempo down a bit.

– You might have to give up all together, if you don’t take care of your body, she said.

Modern arrow

Modern arrow

Estella is not a very large town, but it is long and narrow, squeezed into a valley. So it took us a while to get passed the outskirts of the city. The albergue was situated in the town centre, next to yet another medieval bridge. I checked in and then entered another packed dorm. Jürgen was lying on a top bunk bed looking a bit miserable. He had already hinted that pilgrim shelters really wasn’t his thing. Erik lay further into the room and seemed less bothered. Probably the two men had been among the first to arrive and by now the room had filled to capacity. I got the last bed. Another dormitory was opened for the pilgrims who would arrive later. My clothes that had been newly washed and fresh in the morning, was yet again dirty and smelly. My pants had mud up to  knee level. I brought them with me into the shower and washed them as I showered, hoping the drying potential would be better here than in Larrasoaña.

An odd man who were staying in the other dorm was loitering among our beds. Apparently had taken a liking to Laura. He walked around in his coat with a strange hat on his head and a pair of giant glasses in his face. He stood in the middle of the room and stared at Laura, while muttering contemptuously in german about everyone else in the room and about how cold it was. He was certainly right about the cold. The one who seemed to care the least about his odd behavior was Laura herself.

In the evening I once again put on my dry outfit. That is short pants with long socks and a green fleece sweater. I also tried to empty a deep blister on one toe with a method recommended in many books about the camino. One is supposed to heat a sewing needle with a cigarette lighter and then infuse a piece of sewing thread with antiseptic liquid. Then the needle is pressed through the blister and the thread is left there. The idea is to drain the blister of liquid. Without the thread the punctured blister would seal up again. This method may work on superficial blisters, but when I pressed the needle through the callus covered blister  ​​it was extremely painful. I gave up the attempt and feared I had injected dangerous amounts of bacteria into my body instead of curing the blister. I decided to only use Compeed plasters from now on, although experienced Camino pilgrims frowns upon such modernities. I, Jürgen Erik joined Laura and Jenny and walked the short distance into town where we found a pharmacy. I stocked up with magnesium tablets and also bought strong Voltaren tablets of the type that require a doctor’s prescription back in Sweden. The hike would from now on proceed with pharmaceutical help. We had dinner in a small bar and again the company was so nice that all thoughts of continued hiking in solitude went away.

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