Day Four: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

The rain has stopped, I arrive at the first Camino landmark, and someone steals walking sticks.

Sun, finally. I am woken by pilgrims preparing to leave and, smelling coffee despite the owner’s assurances yesterday to the contrary, find a freshly brewed pot and three Italians willing to share outside the dormitory room. We trade curses about the first day to Roncesvalles, chuckle heartily about one of the three’s mishap, sending her into the river leading into Pamplona, and promise each other to have coffee in Santiago, should we meet again.

The first leg of the day leads out of Pamplona, suburbia hell again, then into fields and finally up towards one of the iconic locations on the Camino, the Alto de Perdon. But before, there’s the issue of breakfast, and the town of Zariquiegui offers precisely that. Sitting in the morning sun I sip more caffeine, eat a piece of tortilla (egg and potatoes, not the bread variant), and watch pilgrims pass by. A woman complains bitterly: she had, as it is required, left her walking sticks outside church and, upon obtaining her stamp, found them missing. Leikis no less, close to a hundred bucks.

The final few meters up the hill are steep, but easily managed. All the time while ascending, the “whoosh whoosh” of the windmills located at the summit beckons, asking to come closer and partake in the cooling winds that drives them.

Windmills in the distance

A row of metal silhouettes lines the way “Where wind and stars collide” pilgrims of all manners of ages and transportation. Everyone stops to take a picture, as do I. Then, down a rocky, stony, path, we hurry past a number of smaller towns into Puenta La Reina which, just to spite the pilgrim, requires another steep ascent to enter.

I find an albergue, drop my backpack off and my clothes into the washer, and head into town for dinner. Patatas Bravas, again, washed down with a bottle of Estrella and chased by a smoke. A hug from behind interrupts my thoughts… “got one for me, too?” Inga, Lilly and another girl behind her. Lilly looks happier, more relaxed, and even musters a smile for me. The third girl is Canadian, from Vancouver, and the funniest thing happened to her: she’d injured her ankle on the descent into Zubiri, had a hard time walking, was almost about to give up, when suddenly, as if from God himself, she came across some discarded Leiki walking sticks in a ditch on top of the Alto de Perdon. Leikis? It doesn’t take Sherlock to discern the course of events here, and after a brief discussion we decide to keep an eye open for their original owner.

Puenta la Reina

But first, stories. “She got laid,” whipers Inga, eyeing Lilly. That explains her attitude. One of the Swiss? No, they’re gay. Some Polish pilgrim, and she’s in love. The Canadian girl spots the lady first, jumps up, and limps towards her. A brief conversation later, and a deal is made: the Leikis return and their original owner will purchase a wooden hiking stick as a finder’s fee. Everyone’s happy.

We remain for a long time, the sun is setting and as it gets colder, we wander on to Lilly’s albergue for a night cap of Estrella at their porch. Time for small bomb number two: Lilly wants to follow her Polish lover to the Camino del Norte and reconvene in Santiago at the latest. Inga looks dejected, but musters a smile, patting me on the back: “Well, I guess I have to find another Camigo.”

I return to my albergue, seconds before lockdown. A quick shower and pickup of my clothes later, I am in my bunk, dreaming of windmills, people falling into rivers, and, curiously, a smiling donkey.