Camino Day 4 – Zabaldika to Cizur Menor


We leave the nunnery relatively early, soon after breakfast. The younger French woman seems surprised when we say goodbye, and I feel a little bad, like we’re betraying them or something. I would like to see them again, and hope they fare better in communicating with Spaniards along the route.

This is another hard day. It is hot, very hot, and for a stretch I cool myself by putting my not quite dry shirt across my neck or over my head to keep the sun off. I had decided against bringing a hat with me, because in general, I believe that hats are silly things, but that was definitely a mistake. My feet still ache.

We spend a fair bit of time in Pamplona, drinking coffee at Cafe Iruna, which Hemingway references in one of his books, and where he’s supposed to have spent rather a lot of time. The Spanish couple from outside Larrasoana is there, and they point to the interior of the place – “Hemingway is inside.” We follow their directions and find a large statue of the writer leaning against the bar, in an otherwise closed part of the restaurant. We pose for photos.

We buy a sim card with data and some phone minutes for Dorcinda’s phone, and go back a few times to get it to work. On our second trip, we have to wait in line behind a pair of young Spaniards who are buying selfie sticks – it takes a bit longer than it should because the store only has black and pink selfie sticks on display, and the man wants a different color. He gets the last blue one in the shop, hidden somewhere in backroom inventory, and the woman decides on black.

We also find a pilgrim store, where I buy a hat and small book on legends of the Camino. The weight of words, added to my pack. I also, at Dorcinda’s urging, spend 25 euro on a walking pole, and it turns out to be a great help, given the state of my right leg. I also bought a small bottle of all purpose soap, which I lose almost immediately. I consider buying a new pilgrim shell, since mine looks terrible in its plastic bag (Mom donated them from NY, but we couldn’t drill holes in them, so we just stuck some string through a plastic bag to attach them to our packs). I decide against it and instead transfer my shell to a bag that is smaller and more transparent. I also pick up some bandaids. Dorcinda buys a shell-shaoed pin for her hat, and some needle and thread.

We spent a bit of time in the Cathedral, which was also a museum. There was an exhibit on Western culture, which seemed odd, and I breezed past. I was mostly looking for the preserved Gothic kitchens, which were supposed to be a rarity since few churches bothered to preserve them through various renovations over the centuries. This one had an enormous central chimney and four corner chimneys, to let out smoke and smell. I looked for relics, and toured the chapels.   But I did not ascend to the bellringer’s apartments, in a tower of the church. There was a sign warning away the elderly or people in poor health, but I knew as soon as I saw the entrance that the warning applied to me as well. Stairs? No way. Not today.

We walk on out of Pamplona, with me leaning heavily on my walking stick as I learned how to use it. We make it only a little ways out of town before I decide and can go no further in the heat. We stop at Cizur Menor, at a hostel by a unused chapel, run by the remnants of the knights of Malta.

It’s cheap – 6 euro, plus food, which we cook, is donativo. We are greeted by a German guy who calls himself Ambrosio, big and bald with a red nose. He jokes about whether we want the sibling discount or the group travel discount – it doesn’t matter, since it’s 6 euro either way. We choose the smaller room, which is already half-occupied by Masha, the Russian from Zabaldika, and a Taiwanese woman named Pez. We gamble that we’ll sleep better here than in the main room, which may fill up with snorers later, although it is empty now. There’s a sing-a-long or something in the chapel later, and we decide we’ll probably go, despite our bad experience with prayer at Zabaldika.

We chat, over wine, with Masha and a young German named Max. While we chat, Ambrosio offers to make dinner with us. Masha and Max largely ignore him, but Dorcinda and I, feeling guilted, go upstairs to join in. But when we get there, he’s petulant, and says he’s already cooked dinner for himself, and we can go ahead and use some of his leftover rice. He turns the radio on, loudly, and leaves. We groan – it’s the Eagles, and we feel rude turning it off when he’s just in the other room. We start to cook, but have trouble with the stove. We ask Ambrosio, and he tells us to experiment and figure it out on our own. Despite the fact that he’s JUST managed to cook some fried rice, he tells us he has no idea how the stove works and can’t help us. We eventually figure out how to turn on some heat, and make a poor man’s fried rice, with a bit of chorizo, red peppers, tomato, and onion and garlic. It’s not great, but it works.

We join Max and Pez for a game of Uno, with crazy Max rules – he insists that they’re common in Germany, but we are skeptical. If you throw out a seven, you switch hands with someone of your choice. And if you throw out a zero, everyone’s hand switches in the direction of play. Dorcinda wins, and leaves, then Pez, who started out thoroughly confused, comes in second, then me, then Max. Rather than play another round, Dorcinda and I head to town to find a bar to write. I’ve gotten a bit of sunburn just from sitting out playing Uno. We wander lazily towards the town, and an old man waves us towards one of the few bars – come in, we have beer, great prices, very cozy! We follow his advice, and are happy to have done so. We write for 1.5 to 2 hours, and I feel very productive over the course of two beers, finishing a chapter in my fantasy story. St. June has gotten through her trial of valor and now faces a more serious foe.

We come in late to the singalong, and its basically Ambrosio noodling along on an acoustic guitar and singing Americana. Johnny Cash. We hear the Boxer, which sticks in our head for days, and then he ends with Amazing Grace. At the end, an old American or Canadian guy (there with his boyfriend/husband?) whips out a harmonica and plays a couple of lines. Ambrosio asks if its a Hohner, and the guy tells him its a Suzuki. Ambrosio’s guitar is a Yamaha.

At bedtime, Dorcinda makes a mortal enemy. Again, at 10pm sharp, Masha turns out the light, but Dorcinda is using her phone or headlamp to read a little. Masha insists that she turn it out and Dorcinda refuses. She tells Masha she can put a sheet over her face if the faint light bothers her. Masha tries again “It’s the reglas.” Dorcinda says, no, the rules say quiet at 10pm, not no lights. Masha gathers her things and storms off in a huff. It’s 10:05. She doesn’t return.  Dorcinda, daring another confrontation, tries sleeping in Masha’s abandoned bed for a while, after finding the higher bunk, away from the window, too hot for comfort. But she abandons that, and returns to her original bed.

In the morning, Masha refuses to say hello and avoids us. Max sits around bullshitting with Ambrosio. The Harmonica guy comes by and Dorcinda asks a dumb question: “What was that instrument you played last night?” She didn’t recognize the brand names, and was confused into thinking they were talking about different instruments.

“It’s a harmonica,” he says, beaming, enunciating slowly and clearly, like a cartoon turtle, like a wise sage polishing a pearl of wisdom before handing it gently to an ignorant listener. The words, the tone, they’ll stick with me for quite a while. It becomes an inside joke, an easy reference for all of the many wise and pious men we meet on our Camino, all the ones who are so sure that they have found wisdom on the road, or else have brought it with them.

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