By 8am on Saturday we were back in Zubiri ready to go our separate ways. My feet and calves had been complaining a great deal throughout the night but they began to feel better as I started to walk. Not far along the trail I met Hannah and France. Hannah had developed a couple of painful blisters. I was able to give her a blister pack from my pocket so she didn’t have to completely unpack her bag to find hers, but she still had a long way to go so I hope she made it OK. France was as joyful as ever despite the contraption on her knee, she really is an amazing person.
I had hoped to stop for coffee around 10am but every village I went through bore a striking resemblance to the Marie Celeste. All the gardens and window boxes were beautifully cared for but there didn’t seem to be a person in sight. However, the bird life and plethora of babbling brooks and waterfalls made the walk so glorious that I didn’t care much about my lack of caffeine. Every field contains a number of stocky ponies with shaggy coats many of whom are pregnant, and I went past three foals that must have been born in the night, but still there was nobody around.
In places the track becomes very narrow and it is impossible to pass anyone until there is a wider gap. I noticed an old man in front of me whom I had seen yesterday. He was memorable because he stooped beneath an enormous pack and held a stout staff in one hand and a chemist’s plastic bag in the other. When I saw him yesterday I was worried for him. Surely if he needed to keep his meds so close at hand the chances of him getting all the way to Santiago were slim. As I slowed my pace behind him today I noticed that the contents of the bag had a strangely familiar shape. The next passing place happened to be a memorial to someone who had died on the Camino in 2006. He sat himself down next to the cross. “I always stop here for a moment,” he said in perfect Spanish with hardly a trace of an accent, “she was Italian like me.”
“Did you know her?” I asked.
“No, but I might have done, I’ve walked back and forth along the Camino for nine years,” bang went my assumption he wasn’t going to make Santiago! “It’s a good way of life and my pension more than pays for my meagre needs so that when the weather gets rough I can stay warm and live like a king,” he said pulling out a bottle of brandy from the chemist’s bag. “Care for a nip?”
“Can I offer you a biscuit?” I asked although it felt like a pawltry exchange, but he accepted graciously.
We walked along a little further until there was a fork in the road around a cluster of houses – all of which seemed deserted although I’m sure they weren’t. “There’s a very pretty church 3kms up the hill,” he said to me and some other pilgrims who had stopped to rumage in their packs. “I like to go up there, I’ll show you the way if you want to come.”
I was trying to get to Pamplona to meet Pete for lunch so I didn’t take him up on the offer but I left him with far fewer worries about his health issues than I had had before.
There was, eventually, one cafe open with a statue of a pilgrim outside it, but there were so many crowds that I decided I wasn’t sufficiently desperate to try it. There were also no fountains on this part of the walk which wasn’t great. At the top of a hill from which I could see Pamplona there was a man who had laid out a few cans of coke, Fanta and Sprite plus some apples tangerines and bananas beneath a bush. I bought an apple from him for 90 cents and then bumped into Rachel 100 metres further on.
“That guy creeped me out a bit,” she said (he had given me the same feeling if I’m honest) “but I left without breakfast this morning and his oranges and bananas could be a life saver,” she said snapping open a can of coke.
We walked the rest of the way together into Pamplona. The city was in full festive flow. Many of the men were wearing the distinctive red neckerchieves that you see in the annual bull run, there were drummers marching through the streets and other musicians on pipes and guitars. I felt sure there must be a fiesta I didn’t know about, but the chemist said it was just because they had won a football match and it was warm and sunny on a Saturday.
The city is beautiful. Wide, very clean, streets with many green parks and the smell of freshly mown grass. With its spreading chestnut trees it reminded me of England in summer. However, the fact that the locals were so excited about a warm Saturday got me to ask Pete to check his weather app before I handed much of my foul weather gear to him to take home.
“You’re going to have thunder and lightning, northerly winds, rain and snow on Wednesday and Thursday …”
“Give me back that balaclava please, I think I may still need it!”