El Camino de Santiago, Day 3

A Very Rough Guide for Wary Pilgrims

The Sun Also Rises: Zubiri — Pamplona

Étape 3: Friendships, first aid, a fiesta of pintxos…and foreshadowing

Walking into Pamplona

April 18, 2013

6:30am Your first albergue morning!

Guide to Albergue Packing:

You will need to master the art and etiquette of loading your pack in the narrow bottlenecked lane between bunkrows. No matter how large or small the bunk room is, the ratio of empty space to human flesh remains nearly the same (approximately 2:1).

You’ll find the following checklist useful:

1. Is there the faintest smudge of sunlight illuminating the sky as yet? If you answer “no,” remain in your bunk until visual evidence of dawn exists.

2. At first light, is the bunk room still dark and blissfully snoozy? If “yes,” quietly slip your things to the lobby or sidewalk to pack, or catch a few minutes of rare bathroom solitude to knock out your ablutions.

3. Once you detect signs of human life, you may begin to crinkle plastic bags loudly in the bunk room. Cram sleeping bag into stuff sack using the vertical space defined by your bunk. Load.

4. Wait for traffic to part, then retrieve dry or undry clothing, chamois towel, and socks hanging from balconies/clotheslines/bunk slats. DO NOT sniff-check any of these items. Ever.

5. Ideally, you have worn today’s walking clothes to bed. Add additional layers onto self as needed. Stuff the rest into a plastic sub-bag. Load.

6. Wait for traffic to unsnarl; walk in sock-feet to boot lockers; do not inhale; insert feet gingerly.

7. Close pack. Hoist pack to shoulders. Grunt. Depart.

8. Return after 3 minutes to retrieve forgotten walking poles. Depart for real.

Pamplons 11,3

Sun-washed village

7:30am Zumo in Zubiri.

It’s a gloves morning. The wall-eyed barman dispenses café con leche and zumo de naranja. Unlearn “jugo” and relearn “zumo” at this time. Implement the Castillian lisp, as in “THOO—moh.” Feel silly.

This day will be everything you were conditioned to expect by your repeated viewings of The Way: sun-washed villages, watercolor-blue skies, the effortless camaraderie of fellow pilgrims. By turns, you walk with “J,” the courteous Frenchman from last night, and your new Aussie ladyfriend “Z.” Swiftly fall in love with them both.

11:30am First aid.

A lunchtime oasis appears in your path at precisely the right moment—can it be real?

El Horno

Become overstimulated by the sight of an outdoor pizza oven. Panic. Order everything.

You’re unable to decide which is the more exquisite sensation: Motionlessness under gentle sunshine, jamón serrano on your tongue, or throbbing feet free of their boots.

Z settles in beside you at a sunny picnic table. Not only is she a delightful hiking companion; she’s a highly competent walkabout veteran. When H peels his socks off, she clucks maternally—a train derailment has occurred inside his boots, and she has just the thing.

Out comes Z’s magic kitbag. She dispenses a special Australian dosage of Vitamin I to her eager pupils, removes a compact surgical kit for H’s blister colony, and begins treating his wounds.

14:00 You are here! Not really.

Walk into the outskirts of Pamplona with Z, J, and two delightful lasses—the Aussie Amigas (AAs) you met at El Horno, the pizza oven fairyland. Stop on the ancient bridge to rest, perform the requisite photo op, and pet the golden retriever—whose unpronounceable name means “Shadow” in Basque.

Hooray! You are in Pamplona! After a momentary dizzying sensation of transitioning from pastoral to urban scenery, you realize that arriving at your destination city is not the same thing as arriving at your destination.

This will become a common motif in the weeks to come, as you trudge through the prolonged outskirts of Logroño, Burgos, León, and Santiago.

Pamplona outskirts

15:30 Arrive.

Portal de FranciaH has fallen ominously silent; his ears are laid back. Will this urban hellscape ever end? Pass through an ancient stone gate into Pamplona’s old city, where seemingly, no one lives.

Guess what? You are the lone speaker of rickety Spanish in this current sixsome. Ask stilted directions to the albergue, then stutter and fumble haplessly for your pilgrim’s passport as the albergue hospitalera observes your befuddlement in amazement.

Some people are afraid of flying. Others dread tornadoes, sharks, or clown paintings. These are logical and reasonable fears.

Social anxiety, on the other hand, is totally f***ing stupid. You reflect wryly on your decision to study foreign languages in school—a skill that requires speaking aloud, at which you do not excel—as you stumble through the check-in process with maximum self-consciousness.

This will get easier—not because your Spanish will magically unclinch in a week or so (which it will), but because at some point, you will calm the @#$& down and relax into your comical accent.

When you stop obsessing about how your Spanish sounds and just start talking, you will have arrived.

Remember: Comical accents are considered adorable in many cultures.

16:00 Join forces.

Divide and conquer: Pool the group’s dirty laundry and station one pilgrim to lurk near the full washing machines. In the laundry room, observe with a smile that the Irish (see Day 1) have made it as far as Pamplona. Remove and hang their wet clothes on the line when a washer spins down.

note: Hanging a near-stranger’s knickers for him is a normal activity on the Camino.

Hold an impromptu conference about how to operate the inscrutable and ancient machines. Take turns showering and monitoring laundry. Do a yoga circle in the laundry room while you wait. Bask in this newfound comradeship.

16:45 Reconnoiter.

H’s feet are a lost cause—he climbs into a top bunk and goes fetal. You, meanwhile, are surfing a wave of mad euphoria. H waves you on.

Rush ecstatically with Z into central Pamplona’s stone streets. Stroll the ramparts; admire the view; fail entirely to find the cathedral entrance, encased in scaffolding.

Discover where all the people are hiding—in Beatriz, a tantalizing and tiny sweets shop.


Press yourself into the crush of sugar-cheered humanity inside. Pay attention to the man who tells you to “order the things of chocolate.” When the candymonger makes eye contact and shouts, “¡Dime!” point to the chocolate pastries and say, “Gimme the things of chocolate.” Twelve things of chocolate, to be exact.

A lesson in Spanish: For the past two days, you’ve been constructing elaborate requests using the formal “You” and the subjunctive mood, as in, “Hello! How are you? Would You (Usted) kindly be able to bring me a coffee/vino tinto/tortilla española please?” Realize at this time, recalling the many pained and impatient expressions you’ve encountered, that the direct method is best—as in “Gimme the things of chocolate.” Throw in a quick “por favor” if you prefer.

Speed, it seems, matters more than heavily conjugated politeness in this scenario.

Giggle madly with Z as you cram things of chocolate into your mouths and lick your fingers. Carry seven pastries back to the albergue and share. (No one has to know about the other five.)

Collect your new cadre at the bunk cubicle and inform them excitedly about the places you’ve reconnoitered. Note that J, who has already logged around a thousand km en route from Paris, is sitting quietly, massaging and smacking his sock feet—”to get the circulation moving,” he explains.

You should do this too, but you don’t. There will be regrets. Soon.

19:00 Unbridled imbibery

Is it urban myth that Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises at Café Iruña? Your imagination roused by vino tinto, you choose to believe it is true. Tourist trap? Maybe. But it screams Old Europe, or the spy-riddled brasseries of an Alan Furst novel—all mirrors, gilded columns, and frosted-lacework windows looking onto the Plaza del Castillo.

You love this place as if you’d built the damn thing yourself.

Cafe Iruna

Plaza del Castillo

From here, lead the cadre to la calle Estafeta, Pamplona’s main drag for tapas hunting.

Except for one thing: There are no tapas in Pamplona.

*”¡Tapas! Aquí no hay tapas…… aquí, estamos en Navarra.  En Navarra son los pintxos, ¡eh! Los pintxos y las tapas parecen mismo, pero no lo es…” —informative Pamplonan waiter, in The Way

* translation: “Tapas! There are no tapas here. We’re in Navarre. In Navarre, they’re ‘pinxtos,’ right? Pintxos and tapas seem like the same thing, but they are not…”

Pinxos bar

People do live here, just not between 14:00 and 17:00. By 20:30, la calle Estafeta doesn’t lie in Pamplona anymore; it pulsates there. In your vino-tinted mind, you rename it “la Estafiesta.”

Some people claim that the main difference between Spanish tapas and Basque “pintxos” is that pintxos have been skewered—”like bull,” someone quipsOthers posit that pintxos are smaller and more elaborately prepared than tapas.

All you know is that the art of small-plate dining approaches its most elevated and sacred form in this gorgeous old city, where the sun stays out so late because it can’t bear for the fun to end.

Nor can you. The day has been perfect. The cadre beats albergue curfew, but not by much.

H does not concur regarding the day’s excellence or its adherence to expectations re: The Way. Tucked into his bunk, he types this note home on his iPad mini:

Mom and Dad, The movie we watched may have undersold the challenges of the Camino…Straight out: I have had a very difficult day. But I bought a new pair of boots today, and already the suffering has subsided.

I think, after 3 days of blister-ridden reflection, that I bought my boots a size too small. They felt great in Nashville, but the abuse I’ve heaped on them over the last 70 kilometers proved too much.

We’ve fallen in with a bad lot of Aussies and French. They’ve been instrumental in my ability to push through the pain. Kim is well. Her fortitude and curiosity inspire me. We love you, H

The latter is H’s graceful way of saying, “Kim ran off and ate the things of chocolate without me. I am sad.”

Do not fret, H. Karma is on The Way.

Rainy Pamplona Plaza

In northern Spain, The Sun Also Goes Behind the Clouds. Very often.


¡Dime!—(“DEE-may”) Tell me! Spit it out! Use your words!

hospitalera—(fem. form) A kind soul (usually a former and future peregrina) who volunteers to work at a public albergue for several weeks in return for abuse and absurd demands from new peregrinos who don’t “get it” yet.

Iruña—”Pamplona” in Basque

pintxos—(“PEEN-chos”) [note: “tx” = “ch”] In Navarre, do not call them tapas, even though they masquerade as such.

zumo de naranja—orange juice


How can I do the Castillian lisp thing without feeling like an idiot?

You cannot. You are going to feel like an idiot the first 200 times you try to pronounce C and Z with a “th” sound. For the first week, you will accidentally say S with a “th” sound as well, as in “GRATH—ee—ath.” (Gracias)  This will be hilarious to Spanish-speaking onlookers.

Who gives a s**t? I mean, you’re not walking the Camino to be comfortable, right? You’re walking it to be cold, wet, sweaty, vulnerable, tired, tongue-tied, hungry, smelly, covered in sheep poop, freaked out, lonely, hung-over, clueless, sleepless, beaten down, blistered, awed, bloodied, overwhelmed, tearful, crazed with joy, and/or forever altered. Otherwise you’d be on a freaking cruise right now.

Pansy-@$$ boots—the cleanest they'll ever be.

Pansy-@$$ boots at El Horno—the cleanest they’ll ever be.

20 thoughts on “El Camino de Santiago, Day 3

  1. I love your writing. You are so darn funny! You’re also providing a great description of what you experienced and it’s a new and energetic perspective. Can’t wait to read your next submission. Thanks for sharing this journey with me.

  2. I must thank my brother in law (Brent Ledford, you met on the Camino -he sent me a group picture of you) for connecting me to your wonderfully enjoyable blog. Hope I can make it back to Pied de Port and be able to finish the Camino – I’ve made amazing progress in my recovery from the stroke. ..

    • Hi Gary! I’m so glad you introduced yourself, and I’m thrilled that you are enjoying the blog. I have my fingers crossed for your successful recovery and the amazing Camino experience that I’m sure will follow. Say hi to Brent! We had a great time with him.

  3. You put into words what is in my heart and head. I am reliving it as I read. I can almost taste all those thing of chocolate. Say hey to the Reverand H for me. Buen camino,,, GM

  4. Reliving my experience also. We stopped for lunch there, saw many young men tending to their blisters. Hurried to the only restroom as I had pooped on myself about 2k back.

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