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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Saints and Cynics Day 9: Pamplona to Puente de la Reina

Pamplona to Puente de la Reina 24km (201km cumulative)

Day 8 was a rest/writing-up day. I don't, as a rule, like rest days but I generally succumb more often than I'd like. They break both the rhythm and the tension between landscape and pilgrim/hiker; it's only 24 hours but you still have to get going again after the break. In May 2012, after only three days on the trail, I made an impromptu stopover in Pamplona to see if the 15-M Indignados demonstrations might kick off. They didn't, I should have carried on then, I really should have carried on today but you know what they say about those who ignore history ...

Pilgrim's donkey tethered outside a bar in the outskirts of Pamplona. It's not the first time I've witnessed a beast of burden on the Camino, in 2014, on the Meseta, I encountered a Frenchman who'd walked all the way from Paris with a mule.

The Camino, well-marked and well-trodden, wends its way out of the rather plush suburbs of Pamplona up to the Alto de Perdón through fields of barely and of rye. That Tennysonsian refrain will accompany my fellow pilgrims and me for many, many days. Best you have no aversion to a landscape that's golden blonde.

As we paused for to rehyrdate, a passing local informed us, overly gleefully, we thought, that this was once a witches castle. I ventured to suggest that in the twenty-first century it might appropriately resurrect itself as an S&M club, though I didn't translate it into Spanish!

Looking north (above) to the Basque mountains and east (below) to Pamplona, whence we'd come on a leisurely Saturday morning

Are you gonna come my way? (It didn't)

The mountains to the north-west of Pamplona are characterised by limestone cliffs and crags. From the south, from the Camino, they resemble a cuesta and scarp landscape, impressive but not intimidating. Seen 'head-on', however, from the east or the west, they look much more shapely.

The summit of Alto de Perdón (Heights of Forgiveness). The climb looks worse than it is - not much more than a bracing stroll - and the pilgrim is rewarded not only with wide views looking back and looking forwards, but this sculpture dedicated to all the pilgrims who walk the Camino. The inscription reads donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas: 'where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars'. 

Can you feel it? This is the view, looking west, that got my hot and sticky landscape juices flowing back in May 2012 and did so again, in 2016. Having left the Pyrenees and Pamplona, the Camino now strides out boldly across a more open landscape, into the distance, towards the horizon and beyond. I asked two fellow pilgrims with whom I was walking if they, like me, could feel the profound change that had taken place in the landscape merely by traversing the Alto de Perdón. It took them a while, but as we began the stony descent the finally succumbed.

Wind turbines on the Alto de Perdón ridge

You get your photo taken at the Alto de Perdón, you pick it up in Puente la Reina the following morning. A nice - and worthy - little earner ...

Virgin secreted in the landscape, one for the Catholic gaze.

Church of Our Lady of Arnotegui, Obanos. Home to the Mysteries of Obanos,a legend acted out in the village every two years: 'and Guillén, flushed with fury, finally urged his sister Santa Felicia to leave the lands of the town of Obanos. She refused, and the Duke of Aquitaine, in a fit of anger'.

Up on the ridge, in the centre, is a hermitage. Below, in the valley, the Camino Aragonese that has crossed the Pyrenees at the Pass of Somport joins the Camino Frances and together they enter Puente la Reina

So far the hike has taken on a much more Catholic aspect than I'd anticipated, it's been much more spiritual ... and ... I think there's a lot of stuff here about the Catholic gaze, the Catholic gaze being more than a visual concept ... being also very much sensual ... the Catholic gaze has to be sensual, involving all the senses. And, perhaps with the bells yesterday ... perhaps that becoming important.
Recorded Saturday 22 July 2016

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