Our day began long before daybreak, around 6am, as alarm clocks began going off and pilgrims began stirring in hopes of getting an early start. Many of the pilgrims are starting their morning trek before the sun comes up (which happens around 7:15am), but we feel it’s a bit too precarious to hike in the dark. We also don’t want to miss any of the scenery. But, this way they are more assured of securing a bed in one of the more popular albergues down the trail, which seems to be one of their main priorities. One thing we all agree on is stopping mid-morning for a light breakfast, usually a sweet roll or Spanish tortilla and a cafe con leche. Often the trail side cafés become quite crowded with pilgrims.
One aspect of the Camino that we have grown to quickly appreciate is the opportunity to pass through and stay awhile in the many tiny, quiet villages and hamlets along the way. We have come to learn a bit more about how the local people live. These are places we would never otherwise have stopped in or even passed through. The major roads uniformly bypass these small places. And we are seeing this as a gem of a gift to the pilgrims.
Much of the day the trail followed the river Arga and was nicely shaded. We passed our new friend, Araceli, who we met at dinner in Vizkarra, sitting in the shade beside the river. She had just made a short stop to remove her boots and cool her feet in the river. At another point we took a short, although very steep, detour to the hamlet of Zabaldika where the Iglesia de San Esteban (Church of St. Stephen), built in the 13th century, is located. The church is cared for by an order of nuns and we were warmly greeted by one. This was a very spiritual place and we took the time for Morning Prayer before moving on.
We also met a 70 year old British gentleman, named Ken, who comes from a small town located between Liverpool and Manchester, England. His accent was very strong – almost too hard to understand – but charming to listen to. He is hiking the Camino for the second time. We shared stories and he told us an interesting one about him and the Beatles. In the early sixties as the Beatles were just starting to become famous, he was told about this group that was playing at a small club in town called The Cavern. For whatever reason he did not go. Years later he came to realize that that night was the very last time the Beatles would play at The Cavern before going off to worldwide fame and he missed it!
We have decided to try and stop at smaller, preferably parochial (church associated) albergues from now on as much as possible. Not only are they generally smaller and much less crowded than the larger municipal albergues, the hosts are often monks or nuns who genuinely appreciate pilgrims and go out of their ways to make you feel comfortable and welcome. As an added plum, their facilities and grounds are often in ancient buildings with beautiful grounds.
Tonight we chose to stay in the town of Trinadad de Arre at an albergue located behind the basilica church Convento de la Trinadad (Holy Spirit), operated by the Marist Brothers. Brother Domingo greeted us, gave us the grand tour (all in Spanish), and exuded a feeling of welcome. The albergue only has 34 beds and only about half were occupied. An albergue has existed here since the 11th century. We had planned on stopping in Pamplona for the night, but found this quieter place much more attractive.
This trip is so much different than the forms of travel I have ever experienced before. Rather than focusing on rapid movement, hotels, restaurants, trains, taxis, etc., this experience is the exact opposite as we focus more on nature, lack of time pressures, quietness, and a more communal lifestyle with the albergues and pilgrim dinners – a very nice change in outlook.
We are still not sure exactly what we will do tomorrow. We will probably do a bit of sightseeing in Pamplona (the first big city we have come to on the Camino), but then may go on from there a bit, attempting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a more rural and pastoral location. We’re still a day ahead of schedule and have a scheduled rest day coming up (which we may or may not observe). We’re just going to play it by ear in the spirit of the Camino.