Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain, Uterga, Villava

September 5th, Day 4: Villava to Uterga: You Have to Have a Crisis

Breakfast in Pamplona

I am one of the first out of the albergue at 6:30. Bound for Pamplona, I start out walking under starlight, feeling strong. Despite entering a city, there is little traffic. The only things open are bakeries and cafes, and I breathe in deeply each time I pass by, savoring the smell of freshly baked goods. Not too long into my walk, Wolfgang cruises past me at double the pace I am walking. He is a machine!

I approach a bridge from the 16th Century and on the other side is a statue of St. James. This statue signifies The Way and more specifically, the entryway to Pamplona. The city is coming to life. On the old side of the city, shop doors are opening and streets are being swept. I pass an albergue and peek in the window. Lydia and her college group are attending a morning lesson. I want to say goodbye to her, as she mentioned they will spend a few days in Pamplona for lessons and I may not see her again, but I don’t want to interrupt. I continue to cross Pamplona.

Pamplona in the early morning light.

On the new side of town, a large park sprawls out. People are out for their morning runs and walks. It takes a while to traverse the city, and by the time I reach the other side, my feet are already talking to me. I decide to find a cafe, have some breakfast and rest my feet. This is not such a good sign so early in the day. I have only covered 3.5 km. I order a chocolate croissant and cafe con leche and sit on a bench outside a cafe with my shoes and socks off. This seems to make things temporarily better, until I have to lace up my boots again. I just want my body to listen to my brain. I have the energy and I want to cover the distance, but my feet are having none of it. I blast Florence and the Machine on my ipod as I leave Pamplona behind me.

The hill that awaits me outside of Zariquiegui

On the outskirts of town, I really begin to slow down and stop for another break. Wolfgang passes me again, and mentions he stopped for breakfast in Pamplona. He cruises on and I wish him a Buen Camino. I reach a long, unshaded stretch of gravel path, and I’m probably taking less than twenty steps a minute. I HURT and I know it’s recognizable to others because people are starting to pass me and they’re asking if everything is ok. I sit down on a cement drain that is somewhat shaded and I remove my boots and socks. I want to cry. I cannot seem to hold on to the positivity I managed to keep yesterday. I try my flip flops again, and as I begin walking, a French couple passes me. The man hangs back and asks me how I’m doing. I try to tell him I am fine and that I will be ok, and as much as I can tell that he wants to believe me, I can see this look of uncertainty. It’s a look that says, “If you feel this bad on the fourth day, how will you ever make it to Santiago?”

Smiling Sunflowers

Meanwhile, I look around me, and while I see no shade or rest in my immediate future, I see fields of sunflowers smiling back at me. Whoever has taken the time to pick these sunflower seeds out of the flowers so that they would form smiley faces has saved my day. Seeing all of these smiles pushes me on to the little village of Zariquiegui, where I sit down for some lunch. I connect to wifi and receive an incoming call on Viber from my mum. When she asks me how the Camino is going, all I can say is, “This is the most physically challenging thing I have ever done.” I don’t get it. I have done marathons, triathlons, and all I’m doing is
walking. The conversation is short. I’m simply not up for conversation.

Half way up the hill.

To call Zariquiegui a village is a stretch. A church, cafe, Inn and a few homes and apartments occupy a couple of streets – it’s lovely and quaint, and would be a beautiful place to enjoy an afternoon, but my stubbornness and strong will push me on. Still in flip flops, I make the hot, dusty, steep climb up to the hilltop. At the peak, I listen to the sound of the windmills as they cut through the air. I say hello to a few fellow pilgrims and I yell out to a man who is walking off in the entirely wrong direction, “Hey, you’re going the wrong way.” As he turns around, I point to the path descending below where I’m standing. He nods, thanks me and laughs, and says he’ll buy me a beer in the next town as a thank you for saving him a long detour.

On top of the world, before the descent to Uterga.

I begin the descent to Uterga, and feel a flood of relief after arriving. As I follow the road that makes a sharp left turn through town, I realize that I probably won’t have my pick of albergues, and shortly after realizing this, I stumble upon the one albergue here. I sit down, exhausted, and order a cold beer. I contemplate my next move. I have nothing left to give, but I want to move on. The atmosphere seems morose, everyone seems to be suffering a bit, and the people who are actually running the albergue seem utterly fed up.

My options are to stay put, or walk another 4 km to Obanos. I just can’t do it. So I check in, reluctantly, and opt in for the pricey 12 Euro pilgrim’s dinner. I head upstairs and find an empty bunk, dump my stuff, have a shower, and start chatting to Marta and Jenny. Marta is a fitness instructor from Poland and Jenny is her German walking buddy. We sit before dinner and share our ailments and complaints, Marta showing me her walking shoes that she has cut the backs out of. She says we need the right proportional amounts of food, wine and cigarettes for a good night’s sleep! I join them for dinner and Marta continues to explain how you have to have a crisis. Well, day four is my crisis, and it seems to be the same way for all. Everyone seems to be hobbling around, and my heart sinks when I meet Andre, an older Frenchman ¬†with blisters that would prevent any normal human being from walking – Still, he is bandaged up and hobbling to dinner with every intention of covering another 20 km tomorrow. Marta says we need a good meal and a good night’s sleep, that we’ve hit rock bottom and tomorrow can only get better.

I crawl into bed, accompanied by sniffles and the couple next to me jokes about how lucky they are to be next to the sick girl. I realize they’re kidding and we have a laugh, and commiserate about our aches and pains.

Despite everyone’s quiet and morose mood, there is an unspoken feeling of empathy and compassion in the atmosphere. No matter ones age, weight, sex, type of shoe or size of pack, we are ALL in the same boat tonight. And instead of it being a negative, dividing force, it’s the pain and hardship of the early days of walking that is uniting us.

I wake in the night to heavy rain and hope that it passes before morning. I also hope it’s a cleansing rain that washes away these ailments and that day five proves to be a fresh start.

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