Lost in the Fog

With my new novel Lost in the Fog about to be published in early 2020, I'm embarking on a three month trip to Europe. A big part of it will be hiking the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile sojourn through Northern Spain. This blog will try to capture moments of the journey. David Lynch once said "getting lost is beautiful", and I hope my voyage will embody that definition.

Leaving Puente la Reina before the rain

J’Nell and I left Puente la Reina and crossed its eponymous bridge around 7:30 am with the sun beginning to rise. I’d checked the weather the night before mainly to see how hot it would be, and smiled at the 83 planted on the day with a big sun. Another fine walk ahead on the Camino.

A quarter of a mile into our trip that morning it began to rain.

Two days prior we got a light sprinkle for about half an hour, but we had the cover of the forest to keep us dry. We’d also put plastic ponchos over our packs as extra precaution and all was good. Since the day’s forecast seemed favorable and the rain (at that point) was light, we figured we’d be fine doing the same.

With every step the rain came down harder, the wind blew colder, and the lightning & thunder scared the shit out of us. The flashes and booms went on for a good couple hours, with only a few seconds in between them. You can’t help but worry, even if the odds are in your favor.

Maybe it was a good thing, as the fear of being charred took my mind off the big climb over rocky, muddy roads. We arrived at the next town (Mañeru) and luckily found a covered area by the fountain. There was a group of 20-somethings chatting there, and we all shared the dry spot for a spell and contemplated whether to wait or charge through the rain.

The decision was to keep on moving, but we smartly put the ponchos over ourselves as well as our packs. And that’s when it began to pour. It was wet and cold, and a tough hike to the beautiful hilltop town of Cirauqui.

We sheltered under the church’s covered pathway for ten minutes before moving onward toward our day’s destination of Estella (where we’d made a reservation at an Albergue). Thankfully the plastic ponchos kept us dry up to our thighs, but our feet were soaked through. It’s great to have waterproof shoes, but they don’t help much when the water comes in from the top in buckets.

Leaving town we got to step over original stones from the 2,000 year-old Roman Road that goes through the area. Its really cool in principle, and two millennia ago it was an apex of technology for Caesar and his soldiers. But for pilgrims in 2019 in the rain and mud, the busted up stones were a struggle to traverse.

We passed through Lorca next (another nice hilltop town and it made me think of the Spainsh poet), and it finally stopped raining. We still had about 4.5 miles to Estella, and the sun (it was now getting hot) would thankfully dry us along the way. There would be one more stop, the gorgeous 13th Century Church in Villatuerta (our policy has been if the doors are open we go inside), and we then we forged on (getting drier with each step) to Estella.

70 miles down, 430 to go.

Keeping dry with our ponchos

Those arches provided great cover from the rain.

Roman roads were great 2000 years ago… in 2019 ,not so much.

Beautiful frescoes in the church

The bridge to Estella.

Having a beer in the town square of Estella

The iconic Pilgrim Sculpture at Alto del Perdon

Traveling together as a couple is a wonderful thing to do, but being on your own has its pleasures as well. When J’Nell and I were planning our Camino Adventure, we talked about possibly walking some days solo. With 500 miles to traverse over 40 plus days, we were sure it would happen at some point.

Leaving Pamplona we would get our first chance.

The forecast called for 87 and J’Nell, logically, wanted to get an early start. The night before, however, Hemingway’s ghost urged me to drink more vino tinto and I was very sleepy in the morning. She was packed and out the door before 8 am, and I didn’t check out of the hotel until about 9:45.

Exiting Pamplona I did not not see one Pilgrim (who are generally early risers) for several miles. Leaving the city you pass the University and follow a nice biker/walker/jogger trail out to hill that takes you into the country. By 11 am the day had gotten hot, and I quickened my pace knowing I had a lot of distance to cover to Puente la Reina, as well as getting over one large mountain.

As much as I’ve enjoyed meeting people along the way, its marvelous to have long stretches where you don’t see anyone. Late starts, while tougher because of the heat, will give you that. I concentrated on the gravel path taking me upward, the sun baked fields, and the mountain in the distance. Until I reached the town of Zariquigui I didn’t see more than 5 or 6 pilgrims all day.

I had only eaten a Cliff Bar and an orange up to that point, and there was a little cafe along the way where several people were enjoying lunch. But after filling up my water at the town fountain, I kept on moving. I was determined to reach Alto del Perdon, the Mount of Forgiveness. I had not only read about the beautiful view from the top, but also about the iconic sculpture there done in 1996 by Vincent Galbete.

I didn’t expect to be alone, but after seeing so few people all day it was surprising to encounter so many. I wasn’t aware at the time, but busses take tourists to the spot (it makes sense, its amazing). There were also a helluva lot of flies/gnats in swarms for whatever reason (nothing more than a nuisance), and when I finally got a chance to take in the sculpture with no people in front, I was hilariously attacked by them (see video below).

Crowds and bugs aside, it was a moving experience being at Alto del Perdon. If you’re interested in learning more about the sculpture, here’s a link to an article that goes into its history: https://caminotimestwo.com/2018/01/05/the-surprising-story-behind-the-sculpture-on-alto-del-perdon/amp/

Going down from the mountain pass was steep and rocky, and I could feel a blister forming on my left foot. There were a few groups ahead of me, and I chatted with a very nice retiree from Canada who was doing the Camino with her teenaged granddaughter. But I kept a fast pace and soon found myself alone again for a very long time.

One of my favorite moments of the day was in a town (or just outside it) called Muruzabal on a dirt path with fields sweeping out for miles to my right and left. A young man riding a white horse with a little doggie trailing behind passed me and we exchanged holas. It kept me going in the late afternoon heat.

I figured J’Nell was already in the Albergue in Puenta la Reina that we reserved, but we ended up meeting a couple of towns before that at a place called Obanos. She had just come out of the very lovely church there (San Juan Bautista), and it was so nice seeing her in the plaza. After such a long and challenging day, it felt so wonderful to be together at the end.

Late start out of Pamplona

Spent the first part of the day mostly alone

Water fill up at one of the many fuentes generously provided along the way

Lots of people at the sculpture

Wow

My cowboy friend and his doggie

Meeting up with J’Nell at Obanos!

Ending the day at Puente la Reina

At the Hemingway statue in Pamplona

I’m way behind in my posts (J’nell and I are currently enjoying a rest day in Logrono and the craziness that is the Wine Harvest Fiesta), but I’m going to continue on chronologically. Here we go with days 4 & 5 on the Camino …

The hike into Pamplona from Larrasoaña was a fairly easy 16K (about 10 miles) with temperatures in the upper 70s and mostly flat terrain. We encountered our first rain of the trip, but luckily we were in a thick forested path that hugged the river. However we did fasten disposable ponchos on our backpacks for precaution, as there were parts of the trail that had no cover. Overall we kept dry.

We had a reservation in Pamplona (at a nice hotel) so there was no hurry in our pace, but we ended up making it there faster than expected. Around 12:30 pm we reached the beautiful 12th Century Romanesque stone bridge called Puente de Magdalena, after having to make our first choice of routes on the Camino. About an hour or so outside of Pamplona, it was either walk over a historic stone bridge into Arre by a beautiful church (but then into a more trafficked suburb of Pamplona), or take the quieter route away from the city along the river (which was slightly longer).

We debated, and both concluded we should head into the town over the river. The other path could have been prettier, but the bridge was wonderful, we got a stamp for our Pilgrim’s Passport at the church, and most importantly, we met a sweet nun who hugged and kissed us. She was so excited and happy we were walking the Camino, and the encounter with her was very special.

Pamplona was everything I hoped it would be.

As mentioned previously, The Sun Also Rises is my favorite book, and getting to walk the streets and visit the cafes that Hemingway and his characters did was beyond cool. I have a copy of the novel on my Kindle, and when J’Nell and I were sitting in the legendary Iruna Cafe, I opened it and read a few chapters while sipping a beer. In the parlance of our times, I completely geeked out.

In the book it was the last day of the fiesta, and Jake Barnes (the narrator and main character) was sitting right where I was at the Iruna on the patio having a beer. He watches his friend Bill walk across the Plaza del Castillo to meet him at the table. Hemingway writes so perfectly and he drops the reader right into the story, that when I looked up from the book into the plaza, I truly expected to see Bill approaching me.

The next day we got to visit the same bullring Hem describes in the book (they give tours but it was closed for private ones on the day we were there), and took a picture with his sculpture close to the entrance. As we were walking around the area, I marvelled at at how a 27-year-old kid (his age when Sun was published) could have had so much of an impact on one town. Obviously Pamplona was important and historical centuries before Hemingway was born, but his book had an immense impact on it. On his last visit to the city in 1959, he wrote in The Dangerous Summer:

I’ve written Pamplona once, and for keeps. It is all there, as it always was, except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there… four decades ago.”

There’s a helluva lot more that go to the fiesta now, but I’m glad to be here a couple months after the bullfights that take place in July. The streets are wonderfully narrow, the buildings are charmingly medieval, and there are great cafes wherever you turn. With the right kind of eyes (and after several cervezas), I can see Jake, Bill, Brett, and Cohn head into the bullring across the street from the wine cask sidewalk table were I sit.

You must choose … Cross the puente at Arre or stay away from the town around the river?

Puente de Magdalena, crossing into Pamplona

Inside the legendary Iruna Cafe

Hemingway and the bull

Looking down one of the charming narrow streets to the Cathedral of Santa Maria

In the front or the bullring

Original 1930s fiesta poster in the cafe across from the bullring where we had drinks

Running of the bulls sculpture

Hemingway is everywhere you turn