The past few days have been instrumental in learning the fundamental Spanish art of the siesta. After walking through rain and mist-covered roads in France, the dusty hot roads of Spain have altered my walking habits. Before, I walked between 15-20 km nonstop before taking a break for an hour or so and continuing further. Now, the Camino has shorter stages that allow for a few hours of walking before the stifling midday heat grinds everything to a halt.
I left Pamplona rather late, around 10 AM, and after about an hour made it to Cizur Menor, a town with two rather fortress-like Romanesque churches. Inside, it was cool and dark, and although there wasn’t a plethora of sculptures like some of the churches in France, it was inviting enough, and I took a short break from the sun.
It was a good thing I stopped for water in Cizur Menor, because I ascended Alto de Perdon soon after. With nary a cloud to be seen I trekked up the dusty, narrow path. It was close to noon when I reached the top, and I was grateful for the strong wind blowing. I wasn’t alone, either: at the summit of Alto de Perdon are bronze sculpture silhouettes of pilgrims, forever marching on to Santiago.
The first town on the other side of Alto de Perdon is Uterga, and there is a small bar and restaurant where I spent the better part of four hours waiting for the heat to die down before continuing on to Puente la Reina. Even though I had to walk in the dark for a short while, it was much more pleasant arriving late into Puente la Reina than arriving early but roasting in the sun.
You may have heard of Puente la Reina if you ever took a class on European history in high school or college; it has been a major stopping point on the Camino de Santiago for a thousand years, and continues to be the junction where the eastern-most French road from Arles finally joins the rest of the Camino Frances. Its bridge is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, and is literally a millennium old.
When you consider how perfectly symmetrical the bridge is, and how the angles on either side of the highest point reflect each other, you get a sense of the ordered, rational universe which its builders were striving to mimic in its design. Dark ages? I think not!
The city itself is also quite charming, and I stopped in a bar on the main street to eat a Spanish tortilla with a side of the oil and garlic roasted red peppers which are a hallmark of this region.
You can smell them being grilled from miles away; it’s a wonderful aroma to greet you as you wake up.
After that, it was off to Estella, the final destination for today. More often than not the Camino de Santiago merely follows a hiking path or even a paved road, but there was no doubt that the section today was the authentic, Roman remnant which pilgrims walked a thousand years ago. About an hour and a half after leaving Puente la Reina, the Camino de Santiago crosses through Cirauqui, the quintessential town on a hill you might see on a postcard from Navarra. Unfortunately, I had another hour to walk before reaching Lorca, where I have been for four hours, mastering the art of staying still and waiting for the sun to go down.