It’s Day 5. What have we learned so far?

Sunday 20 August 2023 – One thing has become abundantly clear over the last few days: it’s just as well I previously set your expectations here, because there is no way that I could seriously contemplate creating an entry in these pages for each day of our peregrination. That’s not to say that there isn’t a story for each day; there is. But attempting to write up a Camino faces two serious hurdles: lack of time; and lack of energy.

Lack of time. We have walked in excess of 20km each day so far. Day 1 (25.3km) was particuarly brutal and I have regaled you with its story already. On each of the following days until today we haven’t arrived at our destination before about 3pm, and in some cases much later than that. Once stretched, showered, changed, rested and got back after finding something to eat, it has simply been time to get to bed in order to have enough sleep.  What I have been able to do is to use the Relive application to give an overview of each day, together with some of the photos I took:

That’s a smidge over 71 miles in Imperial money, by the way.

Lack of energy. Basically, by the time we arrive at our destination, we are knackered. Day 1 was particularly tough, but each day has had its challenges.  Day 2 involved a really tedious and lengthy descent on a horrid rocky 3km stretch; Days 3 – 5, whilst not being as challenging as Day 1 (there may be one other day on the Camino that’s that tough, or maybe even not), have been completed in stinging heat – temperatures of 35°C and higher. Whilst I have been pleasantly surprised at my ability to keep going – even uphill! – at these temperatures, that doesn’t mean it didn’t take a lot out of me.  So, frankly, seeking refreshment and rest were about all I could cope with. Much as I enjoy writing these pages, there are limits, you understand.

What my editor wife and I have decided to do is to use these pages to present the sidelights and items that have interested us or struck us as being noteworthy as we go along.  Every day brings greater understanding of the subtleties and patterns of existence that Doing The Camino involves.

The main settling-in to the rhythms of the Camino has been trying to work out a routine and a schedule that allows for enough to eat, the right things to carry with us, time to get to the destination and – particularly relevant from day 3 onwards – how to deal with the heat, which becomes punishing after about midday,

I have weather envy.

It is traditional for people on holiday to have better weather than people at home.  For us,

it’s rather the other way around.

Our starts have been getting earlier and earlier as the full horror of dealing with the heat is borne in on us. It is traditional, when we’re away from home, to reflect ruefully that we only get up early when we’re travelling; but here, we’ve had 0530 alarms to get us up and out of the hotel by 0700 to give us a chance of getting most of the walk done before the cooling breezes become hot blasts, typically some time between midday and 1pm.  Hence, this morning, we had a typical scenario as the sun cleared the horizon behind us.

Food. Another challenge is simply eating.  I admit that we have a slightly unusual dining schedule, if we have our druthers: we like a late breakfast – like, perhaps, midday – and a (very) late lunch as our two meals of the day. We also like to eat a lot of vegetables because when you get to our age you need ’em.

This pattern is a bit tricky to engineer anywhere in Spain, where lunch is served until 2pm and dinner doesn’t start until 7 or 7.30pm; it is an utter impossibility on the Camino. I really don’t want to eat dinner at 7.30pm when I ought to be in bed and asleep by 9.30pm. At the other end of the day, when we want to be on the road before 7, many of the hotels don’t start serving breakfast until 7.30.  A couple of kind hotel managers have prepared us a takeaway grab bag – yoghurt, fruit, maybe a sandwich – which has been very kind of them, but we haven’t had a cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey for days now!

There is a way round the evening meal – tapas, or, as it’s called in Basque country, pintxos. One can get delicous tortillas, creations around chorizo sausage, croquettes of all sorts and many other tasty morsels. We got some lovey examples at this slightly mad bar in Pamplona (I mean – look at that celiling!).

The downside of this approach is that, dietetically speaking, it’s a disaster area, particularly if it’s something that is going to carry on for a month and a half. We haven’t quite cracked this aspect of the Camino yet, but we’re working on it. We thought we might have a decent chance of a more balanced meal here in Estella; a friend recommended a place called Namaste, which serves salads and that. It closed just as we arrived, still hot, sweaty and in need of a shower, so we’ll have to look for something else. The hotel we’re in, the luxurious (air-conditioned!) Hospederia Chapitel, features a bar which is open all the time, so we have an emergency plan right there.

Health is an obvious concern, particularly of the feet; but other bits of the body have their say, as well.  At the end of day 1 I reported that my knees were not up to the task of allowing me painlessly to take suitcases up two flights of stairs. I’m glad to report that that problem appears for the moment to have gone away, despite the poor things having to deal with 90 more km of slogging up and down Spanish hills. I’ve had a couple of other niggles but nothing too serious, and Jane’s been fine.

The feet, though. We’re both now in a situation where part of the morning routine is the ritual Binding Of The Feet. The brutal descent into Zubiri has inflicted damage to a couple of Jane’s toes, so she is wearing (please forgive her) sandals with socks.  I am also trying to wear sandals (Tevas, proper walking sandals), but needed to take a bit more care than I already have, so need to attach bits of microporous tape to stop things getting worse.  I might also have to wear socks, though if I do, I’ll pair them with walking shoes. There are limits, you know.

Another of the challenges that come with the Camino is that of sightseeing. It seems senseless to visit all the various places we pass through without going and having a look around. (The exception was Zubiri, which is basically an industrial town where we decided not to even consider walking round, but instead cosumed nuts and raisins in our hotel room and a state of exhaustion.

However, one simply shouldn’t visit Pamplona, billed as the most beautiful city in Navarra, without taking a look around; and there are a few Things That Must Be Gawped At, so we made a bit of an effort (eased by being in a comfortable hotel, with air con). And it is a fine place.

Our hotel was near the main square, which has cloisters round each side

and is, of course, home to the famous Cafe Iruña, where Ernest Hemingway used to spend time,

We looked inside.  Google described it as “not too busy”. You decide….

The cathedral is of simply staggering size and sumptuous appointment;

the Town Hall has a wonderful façade

and, of course, there is the bull ring

and a statue dedicated to what Pamplona is probably most famous for – the Running of the Bulls.

It’s not the only place they do this, by the way.  Puente la Reina also hosts this somewhat bizarre ritual; you can tell by the way that they can block off streets with gates so that the bulls stay on the main drag where they, erm, belong.

We wandered around Puente La Reina, and it’s a very charming place, with a sumptous cathedral,

and a striking Roman bridge

which was being used as the backdrop for a jazz festival

which we completely failed to visit because we wanted to get up early the next day. The bridge offers a striking overview of the town.

But it has to be said that sightseeing is a challenge to fit in with the rhythms of the Camino, the weather, the need for sustenance and our energy levels.

There have been several nice little vignettes:

  • Outside Espinal, a chap was doing some exercises beside a tree and hailing all passers-by who looked a little pilgrimish, asking them where they came from and so forth. He was actually the cook at the second coffee bar along the route and wanted to make sure that we knew where to go, even showing us the landmarks on the iPad that he magicked up from somewhere.
  • Arrival at our hotel in Pamplona, the Sercotel Europa, was great for several reasons. Firstly, it was air-conditioned. Secondly, the room had a kettle and a fridge. The receptionist, Jusone, was wonderful, fixing up a jug of milk so we could have tea and also fixing up a take-away breakfast so we could leave early.
  • As we walked through Pamplona’s outskirts, a lot of folk (normal local residents) wished us “buen Camino”, showing that they welcomed the throughput of tired, largely foreign, visitors.
  • Our reception at our hotel, El Cerco, in Puente la Reina, was lovely. The manager saw what state we were in and immediately went off into his kitchen to come back with two glasses of lovely cool, fresh lemonade.
  • We hardly see swallows as we go about in England, so it’s a delight to find a profusion of them here, such as around the eaves of the church in Lorca.
  • The hotel we stayed at in Zubiri was 2-star, but very well organised, and we had a comfortable night. We had read reviews (and overheard a couple of comments) which complained about the loud church bells interfering with sleep, but were clearly so knackered that we didn’t hear a thing.
  • The breakfast room in Zubiri had some interesting puppets hanging from the ceiling.
  • We left Zubiri and walked through woodland, which was quite dark, as we were early. It seemed a little spooky, and, at the far end, we saw that early Christians in the area had decided that the women who lived in the woods and helped with healing people’s ills were witches, and erected a cross to ward off their evil. Idiots.

Zubiri is indeed an industrial town, with its landscape (and presumably economy_ dominated by a company, Magna, who process and deal in manganese.  It gave an opportunity to support a philosophical point made recently in Amateur Photographer Magazine, that much of landscape photography is fundamentally dishonest. I took a photo of a village as we left Zubiri.

It looks pleasant enough. But – here’s the full landscape.

That vilage is, we think, a special construction for workers at Magna’s plant, and is a tiny part of a landscape which includes slag heaps and some kind of fluid reservoir.

Views. We have had some wonderful scenery (once the fog had lifted); lovely to look at, but not necessarily photogenic. For example.

However, there have been some spectacular views, too. Particularly impressive, for me, was the view from the top of Alto del Perdón, as we headed down to Puente La Reina. I published a photo on various social media sites:

but the whole view was simply stupendous.

There have been some annoyances, principally noise pollution in the form of a couple of Americans who believe that your idea of a good time consists of listening to them rhapsodise about how fantastic they are – loudly and with a complete lack of concern for the people around them.  One of them even carries a loudspeaker with him which he used to regale us with 100dB of fucking Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer at about 0830 on a Sunday morning whilst all surrounding him were quietly trying to make their way down a tricky bit of slope. I have nothing against Bon Jovi, but there’s a time and a place, and This Wasn’t It. The lack of self-awareness or cultural sensitivity is enraging. I also got somewhat exercised on day 3 with a couple from, I think, Korea, who seemed to be unable to go more than 100 metres without taking a selfie, That’s a personal niggle – they weren’t upsetting anyone else and we haven’t seen them since, anyway.

Generally speaking, it seems that by and large we prefer our own quiet company, rather than seeking to engage overmuch with the other peregrinos.  We’ve had some pleasant encounters and helped people a couple of times, but I think being a couple insulates us somewhat from the social vibe. It’ll be interesting to see the extent to which that changes in the next six weeks or so.


One final Thing I Have Learned.  I know that what we’re walking is The Way of St. James. I know it ends in Santiago de Compostela. And I know about the shell, the traditional emblem of St James, that is used as the Camino symbol. The shell is that of the scallop, or coquille st jacques. Jacques is the french equivalent of James, and Jacob is another equivalent, and a further equivalent of Jacob is Iago. Hence Santiago. Sorry if you thought this is obvious, but it’s taken me a while to connect these various dots.

I think this brings you up to date with the highlights so far – five days in to a 40-day hike over 45 days.

I’m looking forward to our rest day in Logroño (about 4 days away). The hotel has a laundry. The forecast temperature is 41°C.

Stay in touch with these pages and I’ll try to show you the other interesting bits beyond the photos on each day’s walk.

12 thoughts on “It’s Day 5. What have we learned so far?

  1. Ian Burley

    Those temperatures remind me of what we had on the Malerweg in Germany in 2018. Although most of the trail was through forest and pretty shady, we were making 6 AM starts to beat the heat and gave up on the last two days that were through open countryside without many trees. We were, of course, carrying out 10kg packs as usual and frankly couldn’t take any more. We have to go back and complete it one day. Good luck in the coming days and I hope the weather cools a little. By the way, if ever you come across a Lush outlet, their “Pink Peppermint” foot cream is excellent after a long day’s hiking.

    1. Steve Walker Post author

      My day pack weighs in at around 7kg, more if I put the drone in. I think my cheerfulness in today’s heat was to do with the large beer I’d had just before that stage. Certainly, later on when walking round Estella, I felt much more oppressed by it. Thanks for the foot cream tip, and I think the Walkies will be in use tomorrow!

  2. Karin Wennas

    Hi there tired peregrinos,
    Thanks for taking the time to write this – very impressive. See – my choice to use only Instagram to keep in touch with people was very well thought of beforehand. I could never to what you’re doing, blog and Relive 🙂 but I appreciate it!
    First of all – Jane’s feet. It might be that her shoes are wrongly laced, I don’t know but here’s a tip:
    Earl Grey. I always had my morning tea in a bar when I’ve walked 1-2 hours. Order just hot water and pay for tea, but use your own bags. Or? I also had coke or orange juice at bars for energy. And a banana for breakfast as I can’t eat bread … but you can. Sorry about the Namaste being closed. I bought a sandwich when leaving Estella but that was about 8 I think. I always bought some fruit to have for the next morning, up til lunch. And Acquarius drinks to get some energy and electrolytes.
    One thing that’s good for the feet is to rub them in Vaseline Petroleum Jelly each morning, before you put the socks on. I did that every day, both caminos. I believe it helped me not getting blisters. And you “should” have socks in your hiking sandals. Vaseline is good for avoiding friction, and socks too. If no Vaseline the pharmacies know of other stuff, Foot Glide, Vicks Vapor rub or similar.
    Yes, being a couple is different. I was sad the first camino that we didn’t get our camino family I had dreamt about. So as you know, I walked alone, having dreamed of it for 3 years. Only to realise I liked to walk alone! 🙂 But I enjoyed recognising people, saying hi, having small chats, talk at the communal dinners.
    So sorry about the heat you’re in. I started with 32-35 degrees to, but not over 35 I believe. Wish I had advice there, but nope. Apart from always wearing hats of course. In Logrono there’s a city museum we liked, for some reason, haha. Cool inside perhaps?
    You know what they say about the camino. The first third is body, the second third is mental, the third third (sorry) is spiritual. You’ll get used to it, it’s most difficult in the beginning. It’s a way of life, and you might get the camino bug, beware! Lots of hugs to you both!

  3. Judy

    Whew! Exhausting reading that!!
    I guess the first week is finding your feet /pun not really intended! Getting a routine as you say.
    I’m full of admiration that you’re doing this!

  4. Katharine Burridge

    More annoying – Zubri and its rocky tracks or the Yanks with the bullhorn? It is too bad that he forgot his #1 El Camino foam finger to wave about in the punishing heat! When I run in to Yanks Abroad – I stay silent or adopt an accent of some sort to avoid any camaraderie and conversation starters, such as “Wicked f…ING hot, huh?”
    I am so incredibly proud of both of you. This journey reveals the stuff you are made of, which is adventurous, determined, joyful and admirable! And more!❤️


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