I woke up to the sound of Sabina packing her bag. She was leaving early and was trying to be quiet, but her things rustled as she shoved them down. Finally, she clicked her bag closed and slung it onto her back. It was still dark when she left and I lay in my sleeping bag, sleepless, until 6pm. I expected music to rouse us, but the albergue remained quiet and undisturbed. Eventually, I peeled off my sleeping bag and went to wake Jennifer. We had decided to get an early start and try walk as many miles as we could before the heat became too unbearable and dangerous. The health warnings were alarming and we were legitimately worried. Bags on shoulders, we said our farewells to the wonderful German volunteers before leaving. Their hospitality had been warm and welcoming. As we were about to exit, they check that our bags sat correctly on our hips and then sent us on our way with a blessing and a small curled up scroll. Walking through the old town, and making our way out of Pamplona, we found a cafe with pilgrims spilling out of its door onto the pavement. Here, we enjoyed a coffee and a couple of pastries. It was a fabulous start to a very long and hot day. As we traversed the Camino, the sun steadily crept up into the sky and became increasingly intense. It beat down unrelenting and visceral.
We began with a small climb that skirted through vivid sunflower fields. As we climbed, we were swarmed by little black flies that stuck to our clothes and bags. Raimon, a Spaniard, laboured up to us with a face thickly covered in dead flies. They had stuck and drowned in his perspiration. The hill rose steadily and a memorial bench marked its climax. Here, I found a couple of Japanese pilgrims. They were just vacating the bench as I arrived. Jennifer was further behind me and I thought it a good place to wait for her. They wished me a ‘bon Camino’ and I took their place on the bench in the shade. Sitting there, I could hear music close by and realised that the man had left a small radio playing on the bench. I switched it off and shouted after him. He returned quickly and thanked me with a huge and grateful smile. He then switched it back on and clipped it onto his belt. A small fan was attached to his pack, directing a pointless air flow to the back of his neck. I watched him go, wishing that I had ignored the radio. He had it tuned to between stations and it crackled white noise with the occasional strains of music. People playing audible music on trails is quite a bugbear of mine.
Following the sunflower hill, we began to climb a much larger hill which peaked at the recognisable pilgrim figures. They were featured quite prominently in The Way movie with Martin Sheen. Looking down from the top, you could see all the little villages that were only about 2km apart from each other. Raimon pointed out Puenta la Reina to us and it looked impossibly far to us. We were flagging and the sun beat down while the heat intensified. But we had no other recourse but to put up our sun umbrellas and kept on walking. It’s amazing how far 15km is when carrying a 7kg pack in the full heat of the day. The path scrambled steeply down over loose rocks that threatened to roll our ankles and punish our knees.
We stumbled along and found a shady spot to take a break. Here, we met a Romanian woman who had sent her big pack forward by shuttle due to having issues with her knee. Jennifer and I lay in the dirt with our bare feet up on logs, trying to cool them. The Romanian told us that she was trying to learn how ‘to be kind to herself’ and I thought that an excellent lesson to take to heart. She had sucked in her pride and sent her pack forward to the next town. She wanted to finish her Camino and would compromise where she needed to in order to achieve her objective. ‘What is the point of punishing yourself unnecessarily? I want to enjoy this and I must listen to my body in order to do so. So I must be kind to myself.’ She then left to continue along the path while Jennifer and I drank water and ate snacks. We were clearly procrastinating. The shade was a lovely reprieve from the sun and we felt quite cool there on the logs. We were not looking forward to stepping out of its gentle protection.
We later came across the Romanian strapping up her knee in the shade of a straggly tree and we walked together for a bit. Walking up a white, blazing road, we found a lemonade stand. A couple of young boys had a table set up in the garage and offered a cool place to rest while enjoying their homemade refreshment. We sat on the chairs inside the cool interior and paid a generous donation. The lemonade was sweet, cool and extremely fortifying.
At last, we came into the town and chose an albergue which only costs €5. We took our beds and couldn’t do anything but sit, doing nothing. We should have begun walking earlier that day. She should have taken less breaks. We couldn’t even speak, so wrecked were we by the heat and sun. An English man in the bed opposite kept looking at us and asked us if he could get us anything. I think he was afraid we were going to faint. I am not sure that I have ever felt such an intense heat before and I was afraid that I would not finish the Camino if the whole way going to be like this day. The other beds were taken by a group of English friends who laughed and joked loudly. Their voices washed over us abrasively while we tried to recover.
Finally, I got up, leaving Jennifer to lie in her bed and message her family while I had a cold shower. I returned to the room and awkwardly climbed up to the bed above the English man. I needed to do some writing and close my eyes for a short while. Finally, we began to feel better and made our way to explore the town’s medieval bridge and both churches. While walking the streets, we had seen a restaurant that advertised paella and decided to go back to it. While sitting and waiting for our meal, Sabina walked past. I called for her to join us and we toasted the day with a cold jug of sangria. Sabina had arrived hours ahead of us and had decided to not continue due to the heat of the day. She said that she would catch up her miles the next day.
We had finished our paella, when suddenly, a two-man band struck up and people began dancing in the narrow street. People were all dressed up and the men wore red scarves around their necks. It was a fiesta and the dancing was about to kick off. Men came over to our table and enticed us to join them. I sprang up twirling my arms in a semi-Spanish style and they applauded my efforts. I felt a bit foolish, but it was a wonderful evening and much needed after the horrible day. It was a reminder that the bad moments are transitory. There were many good moments to look forward to and greatly outweigh the bad.
After dinner, we wondered through the streets and had gelato before coming back to the albergue’s stifling room. The windows were kept closed because of mosquitoes and the room grew steamily humid. My body stuck to the mattress and I did not sleep well.