First day of the journey, really — Barcelona was play. Here’s Anthea’s summary:
“Aqui estamos en Pamplona – finalmente, despues de un acidente con mi cafe por la mañana y un viaje de tren que cambió a un viaje de autobús – y ya encontramos otra peregrina. Aquí vamos… // Here we are in Pamplona – finally, after am accident with my coffee in the morning and a train ride that changed to a bus ride – and we already met another pilgrim. Here we go … — with Teri Carns at Cerveceria 100 Montaditos.” [where we are lunch]
We took a cab to the train station from our Barcelona hotel, and surprising to me, got the 9:30 train to Pamplona. And the train left on time, going up into the mountains, and then across a wide plain, made by the Rio Ebro. Although the color of the soil is light sandy gray and it looks dry and dusty, the corn (and there was plenty of it) looked a lot better than much of Iowa and Michigan. Some fields were irrigated; others appeared to just be healthy. We saw orchards, a few vineyards, piles of hay bales, and fields with unidentified green growing things, along with acres of greenhouses. In the distance, scrubby ridges rose, and in uncultivated areas, the green things were sparse and stunted, aside from the pampas grass which grew 15 feet high. None of the farms appear as prosperous as most of those in the Midwest — stucco buildings, with corrugated metal roofs or red tile dominate. We noticed before how infrequently anything is built with wood, and that is still the case. Some wind farms dot ridges, and we read in the guidebooks that we will see more as we walk west.
But our speedy comfortable train trip came to an abrupt halt in Castlejon de Ebro. Some mysterious electrical glitch caused them to pull all the Pamplona passengers off the train, and send us on, an hour later, by bus. When we finally arrived In Pamplona, and I was struggling to pull on my backpack, a young woman introduced herself as Lisa from Perth and asked if we were walking the Camino. So we gave our first peregrino (pilgrim) friend a ride in our cab to her albergue several miles away, and wished her a Buen Camino.
Our own hotel turned out considerably more refined than I expected when I made the booking. The shower has a glass door on it (unlike most European showers in the sort of places we stay, which tend to have a curtain that might or might not contain most of the water inside the very small, very shallow shower floor). The place has air conditioning (pleasant earlier in the day, but not needed this evening) and a large lovely balcony with several comfortable arm chairs and a couple of tables; big windows that open to the sun and breezes, but easily enclosed against unpleasant weather. The building is located near the university hospital and clinics along with dozens of other similar new buildings, several large parks, and a number of restaurants.
The restaurants — Anthea and I spent an hour searching for a spot for dinner that was more modest than last night’s slight splurge. We found Turkish (with little that I could eat), Indian (closed for vacation), Chinese (closed), Asian (closed, despite the sign that said it opened at 7:30 on Saturday), and numerous Spanish restaurants. Those fell into two categories — ones with colored photos in the windows (which I think that the owners buy wholesale, and then they just make the items pictured that they want to and ignore the rest), and ones with no pictures and high prices. So we ate at a no photo place; pretty good food. Anthea and I had spinach crepes that seemed much more French than Spanish, and Jim had the menu del dia, with a large bowl of veggie soup and a half chicken with peppers fixed Spanish style — very bitter whole small green peppers. The waiter didn’t have much else to do and stood off to the side watching us eat. He was right there as soon as we finished with something, but it puts a damper on one’s enjoyment of the food to know that someone is lurking, watching your every move.
Tomorrow we plan to walk about 14 miles to Puente la Reina (the bridge of the queen, named for a queen who built it to make the lives of pilgrims easier). We shall see how far we get. The predicted rain this weekend never showed up, and the forecast for the week is hot and sunny. We have a sizable hill (Alto de Perdon) early in the trek to get over. Today’s weather was fine — low 80s and a good breeze,but we were in the train/bus, so didn’t get to take advantage of it.
Pamplona? Our hotel turns out to be at the western edge of town so we have a head start on the morning. The cab driver took us by the bull ring and the street on which the bulls run, but minus the crowds and panting rushing animals, it was pretty tame. Anthea and I walked around the immediate neighborhood, but we really can’t say that we’ve seen Pamplona.
A couple of people have asked why we’re here and I realized that some background would help. We’re walking along the path of a pilgrimage that dates from about 900 C.E. – The Camino (Road or Way) of Saint James (Santi Iago, or Santiago) of Compostela (sometimes translated as field of stars, but also as burial field). The path runs along ancient Celtic pathways that ran from the Pyrenees to Finisterre (Land’s End) on the Atlantic coast. The Romans built on the Celtic roads because they were adjacent to iron and gold mines. Around 840 C.E., a peasant followed a star into a field near the west end of the road and dug there; he found the bones of St. James and two disciples, and immediately told the king. The king built a church over the spot, and pilgrims quickly started coming. From about 1000 to the Reformation in the mid-1500s, 250,000 people came every year to Santiago — Dante, Chaucer, Queen Isabella and her King Ferdinand — royalty, bishops, the Wife of Bath, and people of every description. Some have explained the appeal of the journey as a chance to leave home in a day where the idea of vacations and leisure travel didn’t exist. Many went because of the spiritual benefits to be gained — complete forgiveness of all your sins, and a much stronger chance that you would go to heaven. Others went because they were sentenced by judges to go as retribution; some went as penance for their ill deeds. If the offenders and sinners were able to return to their towns with their certificate, they were forgiven. If they didn’t return, at least they died on the pilgrimage and were therefore probably blessed.
In the 1600s through 1800s, the pilgrimage lost its meaning and appeal for most, but by the mid-twentieth century, people were re-discovering it. Last year,about 146,000 people got certificates from the pilgrim office in Compostela; it is likely that more did parts of the pilgrimage and didn’t get the certificate.
Why are we going? More on that another day; it’s very late, and we want to be on the road about 8:00 a.m.
Anthea contemplating exercise park near our hotel and deciding that walking the Camino will probably get her into pretty decent shape.
Post birthday party in the local park.