The Road to Santiago.

October 5, 2002



Pamplona to Cizur Menor

6:00 p.m. I'm sitting in the lovely garden of a private alburgue at the tiny village of Cizur Menor just 5K (3 miles) outside of Pamplona. I decided to come here because the next leg to Puerta Reina is 20K (12 miles) [Editor's note: to convert kilometers to miles, multiply K by .62] and I thought I should take a whole day for that journey and I didn't leave Pamplona until 10:30. Why so late do you ask? Well, because I was up last night 'til almost two in the morning, answering my email, transmitting my latest notes, and most importantly uploading my pictures. The text of the notes goes fast but the rest takes time. Each photo takes about 5 minutes to send and the wait is awful because every now and then the connection breaks or the system locks, and I have to start over again.

From my hotel, I made my way back up the hill to the center of the city. This time I felt pretty good. My legs weren't hurting for the first time since Tuesday and the pack didn't feel too heavy. All I had to do was find the sign posts for the camino to get on my way. It was just a short time in the city when something happened which is indicative of why I like Spain. A man saw me checking my plano (map) and asked me if I knew where the camino was. When I signaled the general direction, he took me by the arm and walked me about six blocks where he showed where the camino turned right and ran through the University of Navarra (a beautiful campus).

While we walked we had a pleasant conversation (in Spanish). He asked me where I was from and I told him. Then he asked me, since I was heading for Santiago, if I was Catholic. When I said no, he said that it didn't matter that it is all the same considering the big picture. Then he suggested that I take it easy and pace my self at an average of 3 or 4K per hour. He didn't have to tell me since I had learned the hard way. I thanked him for his help. He left me with the wish for "buen camino."

I passed through the university which on the gentle western slope of the city. This section had a lot of new construction and landscape grounds with tree lined lanes. The affect was quite something because I saw something that you don't see a lot in Spain-lawns. Most land is either under cultivation or lying feral. As I walked along the maples and horse chestnuts with rich green leaves, I couldn't help but think of home and what the scenery must be like there now. I always miss New England foliage if I'm not home in the Fall.

Cizur Menor is at the top of hill, of course, which is dominated by a tiny 12th century church. From the tower of the church you can see a white flag with a red Maltese cross, the sign of the Knights of Malta who originally built the church. The order was also known as the Hospitaliers because they also built refuges and provided medical aid to pilgrims outside a town's walls. This not only helped the pilgrims but also prevented contagion from entering a town. Our present day English words for hospital, hospitality, and hotel come from this tradition established by the Knights of Malta.

The albergue was next to the church but it was closed. As I sat there resting, a man and a woman approached. The woman, Jean, was from Great Britain, while the man, Guiseppe, was from Italy. I asked if they were traveling together, she said no that they just happened to have the same pace and quite often walked together. I was eventually to discover that's what happened on the way. You would often run into the same people for a few days, then at some point you would never see them again — a short-term friendship, but a long-term memory.

While waiting, perturbed at the lateness of the proprietor of the albergue, I was reading my guide book when I noticed the annotation that the alburgue was open from April to September. Well, well! This was October. Fortunately, there was a private alburgue in the same town that was open all year round. We three hefted up our packs and set out as a trio to find it. It wasn't too far-up and around the bend.
And what a beautiful place it was. We went through a gate into a big beautiful garden surrounding a small fish pool about six feet by three. Two painted turtles were sunning themselves on the edge. (It turns out that the turtles were sent by a grateful pilgrim from Florida.) The guest house off to one side was where we stayed. It had about seven double bunks, a small sitting room, and a tiny kitchenette. The single shower and bathroom was augmented by a sink for laundry and a new outbuilding complete with shower and bath.

Inside the alburgue.
Inside the alburge
There were chairs and chaise lounges all around the garden where the people sat and read or dozed off. A few were lying on the grass and there were even three women doing pressure point massage relaxation.

The woman proprietor was a veritable fountain of knowledge. She could speak French, English, and a smattering of German along with her native Spanish. In response to our many questions about the camino and church architecture on the way, she brought several coffee table sized books with incredible photographs and data about the camino de Santiago.

But she also gave me the best news of the day. Our packs would be transported from Cizur Menor to Puerta de la Reina-gratis. It seems that there is a new private albergue there and since it doesn't appear in the guide books yet, the proprietor provides the service as a marketing tool. I don't care what his motive, I accept!

Besides, the lady said, it allows the opportunity to go to Eunate to see the church there built by the Knights Templar. After hearing Jean and her talk about the Templars and then seeing the photographs, I was hooked. I was going to Eunate.
Guiseppe and I decided to have drinks before dinner so we went to the local bar. We were able to converse quite easily since our levels of Spanish were comparable. We were later joined by Jean and had a lively conversation while waiting for dinner.

Pilgrims dining.
Pilgrims dining
Right around the corner from the alburgue was a restaurant that offered a special pilgrims' dinner — at 7:00. It was a set menu at a reasonable price: split pea soup, boneless breast of chicken in a tomato sauce, and, of course, vino tinto (red wine). The dessert was a choice of fresh fruit or ice cream. I took an orange. We ate family style; at our table were Urlich & Miriam, a young couple from Germany, who are going to Santiago for their honeymoon. Besides their native language, they spoke English and French. Jean from Great Britain had a passable knowledge of French. Vice versa for Odelia, a woman from Grenoble, France. Guiseppe knew only Spanish besides his native tongue. Similarly, I spoke either English or Spanish, having forgotten most of what I learned in German. (Except of course how to order a beer — there are just some things you never lose. I can drink in five languages!)
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