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

September 6th, Day 5: Uterga to Estella: Something Clicks

Looking back from Uterga.

I leave Uterga around 8 a.m., late for most pilgrims, but again, I’m not concerned with being the first one on the way. The coin operated coffee machine outside the albergue is broken and after a few tries for a cafe con leche or cortado, I give up and head out. The sun is rising over the wind turbines behind me. The rain in the night has cooled things off and the morning light is soft and warm. I have the path completely to myself.

Early morning walk from Uterga to Obanos

I walk the 4km to Obanos in what feels like minutes. My feet feel great! Obanos is beautiful and I’m immediately mad at myself for not covering the additional 4km yesterday to stay here. The village is still asleep though, and there’s no chance for a coffee, so I decide to power on to the next town and stop for breakfast.


Just before leaving Obanos, I run into Terry and Juanita. We find a little market selling fresh fruit and buy a couple of oranges to tide us over. I leave town with them, and we catch up on who we have run into since day one and their escapade of finding accommodation in Zubiri. Things seem to be going much better for them now, they have found their groove. I break away and we agree to meet for a coffee in the next town, Puenta La Reina.

I arrive in the charming, small city of Puenta La Reina, find a shop to stock up on some more fresh fruit and granola bars, and then make my way to a cafe for a real breakfast. I find a spot with outside tables head inside and find a bar occupied with about ten Spanish men who are enjoying their morning vino, conversation and newspapers. I order a bocadillo (a sausage and egg sandwich on crusty bread) and a cafe con leche and make my way back outside to wait for Terry and Juanita.

While waiting, another pilgrim comes along and walks up to my table, drops her pack and asks me if I’ll watch it while she orders food. She treats me to a second coffee and we share our condensed life stories, Mimi is from LA and now lives in Surrey, England and works as a baker. She curses like a sailor and tells it how it is. She has had a few rough days of IT band pain, has shipped half the contents of her pack home, and is adamant she will make it to Santiago. She tells me how she has stocked her freezer of all her baked goods and her husband is at home running the show while she is on her pilgrimage.

As Mimi and I begin to pack up and leave town, Juanita and Terry catch up. We all cross the Roman bridge together, and I break away, feeling well and strong. The day is heating up though, and I’m met with a steep hill on the outskirts of town. I refill my water, greet two other pilgrims, Eddie from Austria and his current walking buddy, and I then walk the entire afternoon without passing another pilgrim. It’s like I have the whole path to myself. It’s beautiful, the weather is perfect and I feel as if I can walk forever…finally my feet, brain and body have aligned.

Maneru, between Obanos and Lorca

I cross through a few villages, some stretches longer than others, but there is no need for music or distraction today. I am able to savor every step. I leave Puneta La Reina at 11 a.m. and arrive in Lorca at 3 p.m. I have a little picnic outside the steps of a bodega, and I think about the next town, Estella. Specifically, I think about how it sounds like ‘Australia,’ which immediately reminds me of the Australians, Sue and Allan, that I had met shortly before leaving Roncesvalles. Well, wouldn’t you know that I look up as Allan is walking out of the bodega. I don’t recognize him at first, but Sue follows him out, and we sit on the steps in the town of Lorca with a Canadian woman Jennifer, who take us through the story of her first Camino, that she couldn’t finish due to illness. She is back out again to try another time and is feeling strong.

Map of the world just outside Maneru

I take a moment to appreciate the depths of conversation that come so quickly on the road, and as I am learning, specifically on the Camino, and as much as I think Lorca is lovely, I decide I feel strong enough to keep walking. I have already covered 21 km, and it has been a full day, but I want to push on and see if I can catch up with Sean, Ray, Tammy and Gill.

It is an hours walk to the next town, which goes by quickly. I check out the private albergue at 12 Euro. My feet are ready to stop, but I know I’m going to push on to Estella. I grab a Fanta and a granola bar from the vending machine, and make my way out of town. It is nearing end of day and as I reach the outskirts of town, I meet Andre, from the Czech Republic, who is walking in the opposite direction. He has been walking for four months and I can see and sense how tired he is. I offer him some food, and he politely and lethargicly declines. He has decided to head back to the previous town to call it a day.

I push onto Estella, passing through farmlands that hug an empty roadway, and it’s not too long before I arrive. A few municipal and private albergues are listed, but I head straight and end up at one of the larger, municipal albergues. I stand at reception, and begin the check-in process, the volunteer asking me where I started out and commending me on my 30 km day. I then listen to him tell me there are no beds left. Another older pilgrim standing at the desk looks at me with such empathy and asks the man to please find me a bed. Then an older woman sitting next to this man pipes up. She clearly runs the show, and she says, “She needs a bed??? We have one bed left!!!” I can’t explain the feeling of relief knowing I don’t have to walk any further.

The woman walks me up to the second floor to show me my bunk. She says it’s the last bed and the only reason it’s available is because a father and daughter moved to a private room because of the snorers. I look over, and see my older, heavy set, Spanish roommates from Zubiri. They greet me in a jovial manner, despite the fact that we can’t really converse, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s partly nice to see their familiar faces and receive a warm welcome, but these men can keep an entire floor awake. I pray the fatigue from a 30km day will win out over their snores.

Street of Hope

I head out to pick up a sandwich and pass an old, ornate church. In the square, children are scurrying around and playing before dinner. I contemplate exploring, but thunder and lightening ensue and I’m forced back inside for the evening.

I crawl into bed around 9, but by 11pm I’m wired. I feel physically spent, but I have this mental clarity which is preventing me from sleeping. I get up and walk away from the snoring and sit on the cold, marble staircase. The rest of the hostel is asleep, except for one girl having a cigarette on the back porch. I send a few messages home and scroll through the pictures I took throughout the day. I stop at one in particular: a photo of  the blue and yellow scallop shell, indicating The Way, with the street name Calle De La Esperanza below. ‘Street of Hope.’  I smile because I had no idea when I took the picture why I chose this street sign in particular, but in hindsight, it is so fitting for the day I had. I head back to bed, full of hope for better, stronger days on my journey to Santiago.

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.