We rise early and in the dark to take the breakfast provided by our hotel. We will each be carrying backpacks, mine a 44-litre Osprey which weighs about 10 kilos (just over 20 pounds) when packed, while Martha’s is a 30-litre pack and will weigh about seven kilos. We took considerable care in buying our equipment and in packing but we wonder what it will be like carrying those packs when temperatures reach the mid-30s as they have in the afternoons since we arrived in Spain.
We are moderately fit and we did undertake some training in Ottawa where we live. We walked more than usual during July and August, often 10 to 20 kilometres per outing while carrying full packs and water. Our favourite trails were one around Dow’s Lake near our home in the city, as well as others in the heavily wooded Gatineau Park near Ottawa. We walked about 350 kilometres in those two months to build up endurance and to break in our new hiking shoes.
First steps, Pamplona
This morning in Pamplona we need only to travel a short block to join the Camino de Santiago as it passes through the city, its way well marked by the iconic image of scallop shells found on road signs or even embedded in sidewalks or among stones on the street, all pointing the way to Santiago. Despite this excellent marking, we have hardly begun our walk through a park when an old man wearing a beret calls out to us and points to a path not far from the one on which we are walking. We have taken a wrong turn within our first few minutes on the trail.
We correct our way and soon find ourselves among many other peregrinos (pilgrims) streaming onto the path from their various hotels and hostels, carrying their packs and clicking their hiking poles on the asphalt. We had been skeptical about poles but found in our training hikes that they were useful in helping to maintain balance and to take some of the pressure off of our knees, especially when we walked down steep hills.
We pass through a tunnel under a busy highway and then across an old stone bridge over the Rio Sadar. Soon we are climbing along streets in a city suburb and later we ascend a dirt path toward a line of hills covered with white-bladed wind turbines. The views back over the fields toward Pamplona, with a range of mountains in the distance behind it, are lovely.
We stop with others at a water fountain in the little village of Zariquiegui. Martha sits on a low stone wall eating an apple and meets Sarah, a young woman from San Francisco. “What do you do in San Francisco?” Martha asks. Sarah says she is a psychologist. “Why are you walking the Camino?” Sarah says that she was to be married but has called it off and that she has left her job as well. There has to be more to life than she was experiencing, she says, and she is here to think about that as she walks.
Alto de Perdón
We continue on, climbing a steep trail up to a high hill called Alto de Perdón, which means Mount of Forgiveness — it sounds nicer in Spanish. As we ascend, we see wind turbines all along the mountain ridges. By the time we reach the top we have climbed about 500 metres from our morning start in Pamplona, one of the steeper ascents on the entire Camino.
On top of the hill we see a line of sculpted wrought iron figures representing pilgrims on foot and horseback, all headed West toward Santiago. These figures bear some resemblance to the metallic horses created by Canadian sculptor Joe Fafard.
There is also on the hill top a concrete cairn where people sit in the welcome shade to drink from their water bottles and to rest. The long views to the west from the heights to the Arga Valley below display a carpet of gold and green, with stubble fields ringed here and there by scrubby trees. The way down is steep as we carefully pick our way along scrambled rock-strewn paths and then walk beside harvested fields and through small villages.
Puente La Reina
We are in Puente La Reina tonight in a hotel with private rooms adjacent to an albergue with bunks. We have decided to treat ourselves to a hotel for a second night and plan to begin staying in albergues tomorrow. After washing our sweaty clothes and having a shower, we head into the hotel dining room for dinner.
We walked 23 kilometres today with a stiff 500 metre climb and a steep descent. That’s 32,000 steps according to my pedometer and I calculate that it will be about one million steps to Santiago. I plan to put away the pedometer after today because I wore it on my belt beneath my backpack’s padded waist strap and it hurt my hip bone. No dreaded blisters on my first day but I do feel a couple of hotspots under the balls of my feet