The longest journey…

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…begins with a single step. I took my first “official” step on the Camino at approximately 9:15am. As is often the case when there is a momentous event happening the next day, I got very little sleep the night before. A combination of jet lag and anticipation kept me tossing and turning until the wee hours.

I got up at 8:30, had my coffee, dressed in my layers and headed out. A not unsubstantial amount of snow had fallen and big flakes were still coming down from the sky as I found the path and started heading out of the city. Slowly.

The path was slippery and slushy and I was glad I had my poles. The signage was a bit confusing and I was standing by a building, looking at the map when a woman walked by, said “Camino?” and proceeded to lead me across several streets and turns until there was a big yellow arrow and the Camino “shell” evident. “Buen Camino,” she said, as she waved me on.

The first town was Cizur Menor, where I planned to get a decent breakfast. Once out of the city, the path became more rural, but was still passable and flat. The snow continued to fall and several groups of Pilgrims passed me on the way. I made it to Cizur Menor in good time (for me) and found the only open cafe. Eggs, bacon, fresh squeezed orange juice and the ubiquitous French fries. On to the next phase and the tiny town of Zariquiegui.

Now the path changed. It was more like a trail. Muddy, slushy and in many places, it resembled a tiny stream. I did the best I could, waking along the sides but my shoes and socks were soon soaked. The entire trek was a slow, steady slog up a relentless (and slippery) hill. I was beginning to be quite winded and was happy to find a bench about a mile before the town.

Two other pilgrims sat down as well, one a man who had obviously walked the Road before. “You’re going to Uterga? Don’t worry! The next little town is less than a mile! You can get food and something to drink there. Then…there’s a big incline up to the famous statues where you’ll want to take a selfie! And then… a very steep descent into Uterga. Just be careful and go slow.”

Okay, I thought. I can do this. I’ll get to Zariquiegui, get warm, eat and drink something, change my socks, have a rest and then be ready for the last bit.

I huffed and puffed my way into Zariquiegui, only to find everything closed. The cafe had obviously been a victim of the pandemic and the Alburgue was locked up tight. There was one little shop that closed at 2:00pm – and it was 2:05.

I was wet, cold, exhausted, my legs were cramping and I had to go to the bathroom. Everything I was wearing was damp. The snow was still coming down. I sat down on a ledge outside the shop and lo and behold, the owner came out! I asked her if she could call me a taxi…and she did. Buen Camino, indeed!

Zariquiegui in a warmer time!

The taxi charged me about twice what she probably should have but I didn’t care. I got to the hostel in Uterga, got my stamp, took a hot shower and hung all my clothes around the bunk. The stuff inside my pack stayed nice and dry, thanks to my poncho and pack cover. Pilgrims meal is at 7:00pm and I’m sure there will be wine. And French fries.

Never did get to take the selfie on top of the hill but discretion is the better part of valor, they say. (And at the hostel, I met a couple who took a taxi all the way from Pamplona due to the weather! So, apparently, I did well.)

Tomorrow and the next day I’m only planning to walk about 14km (8.5 miles) which is what I ended up walking today. Cirauqui and then Estella. And the weather is supposed to get better. Sunny (but cold) tomorrow and in the 50s on Monday. Hopefully by then my legs will have developed some stamina and the road will be easier!

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