Places and situations along the Camino de Santiago are so very different from my regular life, I often wonder if perhaps I’ve stumbled onto a Hollywood movie set.
The Iglesia San Miguel presides over a weekly market in the town of Estrella. This morning, we deviated from the marked route of the Camino de Santiago, hoping to encounter a tradition carried from the 12th century when the church first began to be built. Amazingly, Jay found it!
I wandered between canvas covered stalls, admiring piles of produce. It staggered my brain, thinking of the centuries of people shopping in this plaza!
An hour later, we came around a corner of the Camino, to find ourselves presented with another sample of centuries of tradition.
With a sense of dislocation, I immediately recognized this wine fountain from Camino movies, books, and blogs. To actually be here seemed impossible!
Jay bravely shouldered his way through the crowd of laughing, talking pilgrims and returned with a small sample from the fountain.
Nearing Villamayor de Monjardín, we spied the ruined Castillo de Monjardín on a hilltop. Originally built by the Romans, the commanding position was employed in battles between Moors and Christians in the 900s and used by King Sancho Garces of Navarre in the 12th century. Looking up, I felt transported into the pages of a novel, with looming castle above!
That evening, we walked into the small town of Los Arcos. The Iglesia de Santa María beckoned with an open door. We entered, only to once again be stunned speechless.
Another door beckoned us into a courtyard filled with roses.
The next morning, from the edge of the village of Sansol, we looked across the Río Linares to an almost identical village, Torres del Río. I marveled at the need for defense which caused these two towns to be separated by a moat-like river and stoutly fortified walls.
Later that day, walking through the town of Viana, Jay suddenly remarked, “We’re on the old wall of this town!” I looked down, to see ancient stones under my feet, continuing several stories below us. Ahead, slides and seesaws invited children to play. Now, here was something not even Hollywood could have dreamed! A playground in place of battlements and ramparts!
I laughed, cheered to see something to which I could relate. I thought of the many sights from the last two days. Though I had often felt out of place, each day had also brought miles of natural beauty – plants and animals proclaiming glory. And so, once again, I leave you with pictures of nature – the earth in which we all live.
Bird melodies, sung loudly and enthusiastically, issued from nearly every bush and tree throughout the day. It was Spring, and time to mark territory! Perhaps the sunshine also influenced the celebrations of our feathered companions.
Since I did not recognize any of the numerous songs today, I reckoned the birds were making merry with Spanish birdsong!
I had expected Pamplona, as a big city, to be full of pavement and cars. Instead, Jay and I followed the Camino de Santiago markings through charming green vistas, kilometers of parks!
The tourist map helped clarify the enchanting scenery as we skirted one park, the Citadel. It explained that the 16th century fortifications, moats, and bastions had become a ‘green lung’ for the city, used for sports and cultural events. I wished each city of the world would provide itself with a massive ‘green lung’!
A couple of hours walking brought us to the Iglesia San Andrés in Zariquiegui. We stopped to see this beautiful place.
Back on the Camino, we climbed steadily until suddenly coming upon a fountain, with stone benches and a beautiful design of sunshine rays painstakingly made from small river rocks. Jay read the Legend of Fuente Reniega from his guidebook. According to legend, a pilgrim, after resisting the temptations of the devil, was rewarded with a vision of Santiago himself, who led the pilgrim to this fountain and gave him water using his own scallop shell!
More walking (and climbing!) brought us to the top of a ridge, identified with a sign as part of the El Perdón mountain range. In 1996, after many windmills were installed along the ridge top, a pilgrim sculpture was created, showing 14 life-sized figures crossing the ridge.
This place is known as “where the way of the wind crosses the way of the stars”. Such an imaginative name! A great many beautiful places could be described with this phrase.
After pausing to read signs, take pictures, and enjoy the view, we headed down the other side of the ridge. We walked through the small town of Uterga, then along gravel roads past fields of wheat. Pausing to look back, I could see the windmills on top of the ridge, bringing light and warmth to nearby Pamplona.
Our day ended at a beautiful hostel, El Jardine de Muruzábal.
However, I can’t leave you without sharing some of the beautiful flowers and trees we saw today.
An aria from joyous birds greeted us as we stepped out the door! Though rain had poured much of the night, morning brought clouds and sun playing an enthusiastic game of tag.
We hiked as a threesome – Jay, me, and a new friend from Slovenia, Alenka. When the owner of Pensión El-La had called ahead to Larrasoaña to make reservations, she had only found one available room, which had three beds. Alenka had been listening, and suggested that we share the room. We delightedly agreed.
I assumed that Alenka would hike her own pace and meet us in the afternoon at the Pensión Peregrino in Larrasoaña. After all, no one hikes as slowly as I do! Alenka assumed that we would hike the day together since we would be spending the night in the same room.
“We hike very slowly,” Jay warned her. “Once we were passed by a worm!”
Alenka laughed. “It will be good for me to slow down. I am trying to learn to take time for noticing things.” And so, the three of us happily dawdled along, noticing many scenes of beauty, especially flowers!
Fortunately for us, Alenka’s English was very good. Slovenian is an amazingly inscrutable language!
Alenka tried to teach me the Slovenian word for rose: vrtnica. I practiced for two days, and still mangled the pronunciation!
I’m wondering if Shakespeare also struggled with the Slovenian word before he penned his immortal quote: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Fortunately, we could enjoy the flowers whether we knew the names or not!
From domesticated rose to wild rose, the flowers shouted their glory!
We saw a good deal of Friday’s rain on Saturday and Sunday, in the form of glowering clouds, dripping branches across the trail, and rushing, roaring, rising run-off!
Around noon on Saturday, a Gothic bridge brought us across the Rio Arga and into the town of Zubiri. Our guidebook informed us that “Zubiri” is from the Basque word meaning “town of the bridge”.
Much to our delight, we were just in time to see a group in cultural costume parading down the street, making incredible rhythmic music with huge clanging bells tied to their waists!
Jay took a short video.
When I later described the costumes to the host of Pensión Peregrino, he showed me a large map of Navarre. “Those clothes are from the extreme northern part of Navarre,” he explained. “I have no idea why they were parading in Zubiri today!”
Sunday brought even more flooding as the Camino followed the course of the Río Arga. Once, the river spilled over its banks, requiring us to wade up to our knees in a quiet muddy backwater.
Crossing the Río Ulzama near Villava gave us a great appreciation of medieval bridges resisting rushing water, and providing protection to passing pedestrians. Jay took a video to show the water’s fierce force!
Coming into Pamplona, we passed a park near the Río Arga. Jay laughed, “Today the tables are for turtles!”
The medieval walls of Pamplona gave us a sense of walking through time.
A chill ran up my spine as I walked through the Portal de Francia. Who knew how many footsteps were mingling with mine!
It was a relief to reach our hostel Sunday night and hang up wet socks. The weather report promised sun for Monday. I looked forward to another day of adventure!
I woke with a sore throat, running sinuses, and a headache. A night of little sleep at the largest municipal albergue on the Camino made me wonder about our plans to save money and live the “real pilgrim experience”.
‘I will feel better once I begin walking,’ I optimistically comforted myself. A third beautiful sunshiny day gave me no choice but to enjoy our hike to the utmost.
Each kilometer brought unusual sights to enjoy. Here are a few from the day.
Church of San Nicolás de Bari in Burgette. Notice the trees, whose limbs are harvested each spring!
Watering trough in Espinal.
Concrete “stepping stones” led us across a tributary of the Erro River.
Much as I enjoyed our walk, by early afternoon I couldn’t ignore my tired body’s demand for rest. We entered the small town of Viscarret and began looking for a place to stay. With no municipal albergue available in this village, we were glad to see signs telling us to ask at the bar (cafe) for a pensión (privately run hostel).
When we wistfully asked the owner of Pensión El-La if she had any private rooms, she smiled. “You are in luck. I have one room with bed for two people.” She then led us up three flights of stairs to a charming chamber tucked under the eaves, with a lovely bucolic view.
View from the third story.
Once we had showered and rested, it was time for me to find the grocery store (supermercado).
At the opposite end of town, I bashfully opened the door and peered inside. An older woman sat at the counter beside the cash register.
“Hola,” I essayed.
“Abrir! Abrir!” Unsmiling, she gestured crypticly to me.
Startled, I stepped inside and closed the door.
“No! Abrir! Abrir!” Her hand gestures became larger and a bit frantic.
I stared, my hand on the door handle, wondering what to do!
The woman became more agitated, and the volume of her voice rose as she repeated, “Abrir! Abrir!” over and over. Finally she gave up, put her head in her hands and muttered “Aie! Peregrinos!” (Pilgrims!)
Just then a younger woman came from the back of the store. The older woman launched into a torrent of Spanish. The young woman smiled at me and gestured to the door handle, which I gripped in a nervous chokehold. Reassured by her smile, but still confused, I timidly opened the door. At that instant, a man with incredibly dirty hands mounted the steps and walked through the opened door. Comprehension dawned in my poor muddled brain! Not the easiest way to learn a new vocabulary word, but now I know that ‘Abrir!’ means ‘Open!’
Back at the Pensión El-La, Jay and I enjoyed visiting with other pilgrims in the common room while we ate groceries from the supermercado.
Comfortable chairs welcome pilgrims.
A storm, predicted for the next day, gave me and Jay food for thought.
“Pensión El-La is so comfortable. Maybe we should just stay here a day,” Jay suggested.
“I don’t know. We’ve only hiked three days so far. Still, maybe this sore throat would ease with an extra day of sleep.” I could feel myself giving into the idea of luxury.
“It looks like the rain will be the worst tomorrow, then perhaps ease off the following days. It makes sense to take a little time now, instead of pushing too hard and paying for it later.” Jay put a practical spin on our thoughts of delay.
“This is our first time in Europe together. You’ve said we shouldn’t rush. It’s important to be flexible and open to other ideas. But is it ok if we delay so much we don’t even make it to Santiago?” I wanted to be sure we were thinking the same about this adventure.
“Yes! We will not be destination driven! Let’s live in the present.” Jay confirmed my thoughts. We might not make it to Santiago before my next orthodontic appointment in Seattle, but we would enjoy each day.
The next day dawned to serious rain drumming on the roof, running off the eaves, soaking into the ground. I was delighted to have a day in the warm, dry hostel, nursing my sore throat and packed sinuses. In the late morning, the owner of the hostel kindly took me to a ‘farmacia’ (pharmacy) in a larger town. She also came inside to help me find a decongestant. Her help with translation was invaluable!
Back at the hostel, we happily watched the rain, falling in straight sheets of water. The owner also helped us make reservations for the next night, in the small town of Larrasoaña, just nine miles away. With the decongestant clearing my sinuses, I felt very hopeful about enjoying a wet hike tomorrow.
Whenever the trail comes off a ridgetop in Washington, I know we will be hiking past lakes and crossing streams. Some of the streams are tiny, merely requiring a hop and a skip. Others have worn deep gullies through the trail, and sturdy bridges facilitate our forward progress. Well placed boulders have allowed us to cross some creeks dry shod. But two streams were too big to hop, with no man-made route to help. On those, I sighed and waded in, preferring several hours of wet, squishy shoes to the alternative of stubbing bare toes on slick underwater rocks and possibly falling full length into the water.
Bumping River, named for the habit of tumbling and grinding huge boulders down its length during spring snow melts, loomed large in my thoughts. A hiker named Relish had posted the note, “Had to do some hopping worthy of a billy goat.” The nimbleness of a goat is far beyond my capabilities. I’ve been known to trip on smooth surfaces and take a dive into the ground. As we approached the river that morning, I gloomily predicted another day of wet, soggy shoes. I just hoped the current of a full-fledged river wouldn’t knock me off my feet.
The path forded Bumping River in a wide, shallow swath. I eyed two deeper spots, wondering about the force of the current. Then I noticed a faint trail leading upstream to a large log crossing a deep, narrow bit of rushing water. Hmmm, if it worked, I would have dry feet! If I fell, I would be a lot worse off than if I had waded the ford. I looked carefully, noting the width of the log and the number of footprints across. “I’ll go slow and steady,” I promised myself. A few moments of concentrated work brought me to the other side of the river!
More miles brought us to yet another small creek. Empty water bottles directed my interest to finding a deep pool or a small spout of water. Sure enough, a small waterfall under a log offered the perfect place to fill bottles.
I balanced on two rocks, bending at the hips and stretching my arm, holding the open bottle. Success! Still bent in half, I looked up, thinking to set the water bottle on top of a boulder. Suddenly, I was eyeball to eyeball with a very large frog! He didn’t move, even when I stood up and took his picture.
“Maybe he wanted a kiss,” Jay suggested when I later told of my encounter.
“That’s okay,” I responded. “I’ve already got a prince. Two princes would just be complicated!”
We met many hikers during these five days, and saw lots of flowers!
One day I caught my first glimpse of Mt. Ranier! “We’ll get closer to it,” Jay assured me. I couldn’t resist taking a picture anyway.
One evening, we were enjoying the trail so much, we walked into dusk!
Once, as we crossed a scree field, I heard the distinctive high-pitched “Eeep!” of a pika! These incredibly cute relatives of rabbits live at high altitudes and don’t hibernate. Instead they spend all summer harvesting, drying, and storing grasses, to be ready for winter. I fondly imagine them spending the winter cozily in their burrows, eating summer hay, telling stories, and playing bobstones!
We passed Sheep Lake early one morning. The still water provided a perfect reflection, prompting frivolous thoughts such as, “I wonder if animals are ever startled by their own appearance when they come for a drink?”
Just past the lake, I saw a small ground squirrel sitting atop a boulder, busily eating seeds. He was much too busy to bother with silly things such as ephemeral, watery reflections!
For two days we hiked through patches of burned forest and sections of old clear-cuts. Huckleberries abounded in the older clear-cuts, slowing forward progress considerably. I also discovered that blueberries taste rather tart after I’ve been grazing on huckleberries! In the newer burns, soot worked through socks and shoes, coating my feet in fine black powder.
On the fourth day, we met a trail crew, the North 350 Blades, a volunteer group who cares for the PCT from the Canadian border south to White Pass. Paul told us more than 200 trees had been cut after last year’s burn in order to make the trail passable. When I expressed my heartfelt gratitude, they laughed, and Annalise told me, “We do it for fun!”
I loved all the fireweed busily colonizing last year’s burn!
On our fifth day, we found the most gigantic mushroom I have ever seen!
We also saw a great deal of elk sign. I learned that elk poop smells like horse manure.
Our fifth night, we rounded a corner to see a hiker erecting his tent in an adjacent flat spot. A smooth, even area just down the trail invited us to stop also. Though the day still had two hours of light, we couldn’t resist such a lovely clearing, surrounded with green trees, a welcome sight after all the burned areas we had hiked through. As I prepared for bed, I was amazed to see that rare commodity – phone service! I delightedly sent emails to family before contentedly drifting off to sleep…
With singing heart and a bounce in my step, I headed north from Hwy 140 through a fairly flat forest filled with evergreens. My pack, stuffed with ten meals and all my gear, felt light, mirroring my mood.
Streamers of usnea adorned the trees.
I grinned at Jay. “Blue sky, warm sun, cool breeze – what more could a person want?”
“Mosquito repellent?” Jay asked as he slapped his arm. “I can’t believe these things are biting through my jacket!”
I realized that the bloodthirsty insects were penetrating my shirt and pants also. Quickly I pulled out DEET, applying it liberally to my clothes, more sparingly to my bare skin. The repellent did make the tiny monsters back off a bit. Instead of biting, they just followed me, eagerly seeking a chink in my armor.
We continued hiking, and I went back to contemplating the natural wonders around me. Every now and then a mosquito would commit suicide by diving into my ear or nose or mouth. Jay could hear me behind him, choking and spitting. Aack!
After 11 miles, we reached the trail to Christi’s Spring, and were delighted to meet an old acquaintance, Phoenix from France, last seen on May 6, approaching Tehachapi. As we chatted, catching up with each other, another hiker, Hollywood, approached from the spring. Seeing empty water bottles, he asked Phoenix, “Are you prepared to meet Armageddon?”
“Mosquitoes are that bad down there?” Phoenix sounded surprised.
“You wouldn’t believe,” Hollywood shuddered.
I had read about Christi’s Spring in Guthook, the online PCT map. Chaucer, a PCT hiker, had written, ‘Get your water and RUN!’
Phoenix eyed my preparations, and decided to put on a bit more protection.
Hiker PapaDen refers to this type ofoutfit as a “hazmat suit”.
We camped early, just for the relief of crawling into a bug-free space. I love our tent! As we lay on our sleeping bags, listening to the whine of frustrated tiny vampires, Jay asked, “Hey, can you hear the nighthawks?”
I strained my ears, and suddenly heard “bbeerrnt“, a distinctive nasal vocalization, sounding much like a miniature airplane diving. I imagined the birds, plummeting through the air above me, intent upon filling their bellies with insects. Cheered by this sign of mosquito demise, I fell asleep.
July 1, 2018
Nighthawks provided air support as dawn peered between the tree trunks, but the mosquitoes were undaunted, tinnily demanding that we emerge from our tent haven.
These bloodsucking winged terrors provided escort service for our first eight miles, until we finally left them behind by climbing onto dry Shale Butte.
Jay pulled ahead of me, disappearing as he topped out on a long, breezy arm of the butte.
Suddenly, I heard a loud, rattling fall of rock. ‘An avalanche?‘ I wondered. The sounds of disturbed rocks continued. ‘I hope that’s not Jay falling off this ridge,’ I thought with sudden anxiety. ‘No,’ I reasoned. ‘Iwould have heard a yell. Maybe it’s a bear taking the short way down the mountain.’ (I never did see the cause of the sliding rocks, so I have only my bear theory.)
I continued walking, contouring around the ridge, and noticed musical notes emanating from beneath my feet. I looked down. The trail at this point had been hacked across a scree field. My footsteps clinked over loose pieces of flat shale, making a faint tune, as if someone were gently tapping each pitch in a set of wind chimes. Charmed, I slowed my steps, immersed in the unexpected enchantment of the moment.
Flowers began making a show as I caught up with Jay. Penstemon, western wallflowers, Indian paintbrush, and bleeding hearts splashed the rocks with pockets of color.
Suddenly I saw a new flower! Shaggy gray and white feathers swirled in coiffed mops, looking exactly like miniature versions of the truffula trees in the Dr Seuss book, The Lorax!
Jay looked it up, and we had a name, the white pasqueflower, it’s feathery top the flower gone to seed.
We came to a side trail for Devil’s Peak. The top looked so close, we couldn’t resist dropping our packs to climb. Another couple with the same goal took our picture before we started. The view was well worth the effort. Mt McLoughlin and far off Mt Shasta greeted us from behind, Klamath Lake lay on our right, a wilderness of jumbled green ridges stretched out on our left, and the rim of Crater Lake loomed before us.
A familiar whine greeted us as we descended the mountain, and once again I was thankful to dive inside our tent that night, leaving bloodthirsty insects mindlessly battering the mosquito netting.
Jay surveyed the day’s collection of mosquito bites in disgust. “To think, only the female half of the population was after me! Being a babe magnet is overrated.”
So here we are, cat sitting during a truly lovely part of summer. The PCT continues to tug at my soul. What to do? Slackpack, of course!
“I’ve never heard this term,” a day hiking mother of two told me on our second slackpack. So, I looked it up. To quote from the website, Slackpacker.com, “Slackpacking was originally coined to describe a day’s worth of thru-hiking unencumbered by a [full] pack.”
The PCT crosses several asphalt roads within easy driving distance of Ashland. Logistically and emotionally, slackpacking made sense.
On our first day of this adventure, Jay dropped me at Highway 66, then drove to the next asphalt road, Hyatt Lake Road. I began hiking north, he hiked south. We met in the middle for lunch and a key hand off. When I reached the car, I drove back to the first trail head to pick up Jay. It worked like a charm!
On our first day, though we saw no other backpackers, flowers were our constant companions!
The trail became quite populated the second day. I met two families enjoying a day hike. One of the children asked me if I thought a PCT hiker could live off the land.
“I suppose it would depend upon how much one knew about edible plants, and ones skill at hunting,” I told him. “Jay and I ate violets, dandelions, and ramps on the Appalachian Trail, but here, the only edible plant I know is the dandelion. And I’m a truly rotten hunter. I think I would get very hungry if I had to find all my food in the wilderness.”
After wishing the families a good hike, I continued on, enjoying the feeling of being all alone in the forest. I passed a turn-off for a horse camp, then suddenly spied a bright yellow book inside a hollow log!
Curious, I opened the notebook to find that many hikers ahead of me had recorded a continued story. Enchanted, I was quickly drawn into the plot of an evil Darkwing Goose chasing after The Maiden, who was helped by a host of thru-hikers as they encountered the adventure upon the trail. Needless to say, I added my own bit to the story and returned the tale to its log. The magic of the unfinished yarn stayed with me for several miles afterwards.
Meeting Jay for lunch, I found that he, also, had been encountering hikers today, including Texas Teacher, whom we had not seen since sharing a bus ride from San Diego to Campo on our very first day of the PCT! What a treat for Jay to run into him!
As we were eyeing lunch spots, we met another PCT hiker, Trailbait. We invited ourselves to lunch with her, and spent an enjoyable 30 minutes trading trail talk. Among other tales, we learned that Trailbait had attended a survival camp at the age of 14, and could kill a rabbit with a throwing stick! If the little boy had asked her about living off the land, he would have received a very different answer! After lunch, she and I walked together a bit before her youth and vitality left me in the dust.
During these days of slack packing, I noticed that some spring flowers were beginning to fade, especially the bleeding hearts, which have turned darker purple and begun to grow seed pods.
One never knows what will be seen on the trail, and our third slackpack was unique for a pelvis bone in the path. It still had a few scraps of tendon attached, pretty fresh. Due to its size, Jay theorized that it could possibly be from a fawn.
Our fourth day of slackpacking found me exploring one of the few shelters on the PCT. It is sturdily built, with a wood stove inside, and a mouse-chewed journal. I read about hikers waiting out May and June snow storms here, happy for the warmth of the stove.
Soon after seeing the shelter, I met Pathfinder, a hiker who is intent upon completing the PCT for the second time. He averages 40 miles per day, and has already hiked through the high Sierras this year. We met Jay, and the three of us talked for a few minutes.
“How were the Sierras for you, starting so early?” Jay asked.
“There was a lot of snow,” Pathfinder acknowledged. “The worst part for me was trying to find the trail. I don’t carry GPS, I just rely on maps. I got lost several times. It got to where, whenever I saw snow, I just sighed in disgust.”
“With the permit system the PCTA has started, a lot of hikers are getting to the Sierras early,” Jay observed.
“Yes, I don’t think the system really works.” Pathfinder shook his head. “I understand that it’s designed to spread out the hikers and reduce the impact upon the trail. But everyone gets bottled up at the Sierras anyway. And some hikers are heading into those mountains earlier than they should. It takes experience to navigate safely through snow and high altitudes. Heck, I weathered three snow storms while I was up there!”
“Also, the people who can’t get an early permit to start north are hiking southbound through southern California,” Jay added. “So there are still too many hikers all in the same place. This trail has very specific weather and time windows for the different parts. I don’t know what the answer is.”
After lunch, I had the excitement of hiking around Brown Mountain, a small cinder cone on top of a shield volcano. The path passed from tall trees sporting streamers of usnea to blocks of hardened black lava devoid of vegetation. Such a fascinating ecosystem! As I gratefully hiked along the carefully constructed path, I marveled at the amount of work the trail crews had lavished on these lava crossings. Without the trail, my forward progress would have made a snail look speedy, and I would have probably broken a leg!
Near the end of the day, Mt. McLoughlin made an appearance, promising more adventure ahead.
Four days of slackpacking gained us 38.8 miles of completed PCT, for a total of 721 PCT miles since beginning our pilgrimage on March 22nd. Much more importantly has been the many memories of people, flowers, and natural beauty that we’ve collected over the past 3 months. I can hardly wait to continue – with a full backpack!