While I have been planning to walk the Camino for several months, I did no physical training for it. Most people train for months before walking but the rainy season in Mexico coupled with a couple tropical storms kept me from the long training walks most people would say are necessary to complete the Camino. For this reason I am keeping to short stages and doing my training for the Camino while on the Camino. And it is only with slight embarrassment that I admit to people that I have taken 7 days to cover the ground most people cover in 3.
Day 1 – Pamplona to Cizur Menor – 4.8km (@ 3 miles)
Not wanting to deal with making my way to St. Jean Pied de Port (the randomly assigned “starting point” for most Camino guide books) I decided to just start from Pamplona after spending the night in a comfey private room and attempting to sleep away some of my jet lag. In hindsight, allowing myself to sleep in and start my walk in the afternoon was a very bad idea.
It was approximately noon when I set out into the festival-crowded streets of Pamplona on my great Camino adventure. I immediately got lost. Having arrived late the night before I’d had no chance to explore the windy roads of old-pamplona in preparation for my walk. After receiving several sets of confusing but well-intentioned directions from already drunken revelers I finally flagged down a cop (who seemed relatively sober) who got me onto the Way.
Having spent almost an hour wading through the festival, I was well ready to get on my way but decided I should probably eat something before heading out. Finding a somewhat tame bar on a semi-quiet side street I partook of the first of many “menu del dia” meals along the Camino.
For those who have not experienced the Spanish “menu del dia” experience, it is basically a fixed price menu which includes choice of starter, entree, and dessert as well as bread, water and wine. The cost can vary but generally runs from 8-12 Euro. Having read mixed reviews of the quantity and quality variation you can encounter, I wasn’t sure what to expect but the giant mixed salad, half a roasted chicken, soup bowl of arroz con leche, loaf of bread and *entire bottle* of wine left me presently surprised and on the verge of a major food coma.
After finishing a small portion of my exceedingly oversized lunch and one glass (though it was tempting to have more) of wine I finally took my first steps along the way.
Upon leaving the cool, dark streets of the old town, the first thing I noticed was the heat. As the bank across the street flashed the temperature – 35 (@100F) – it occurred to me that I was walking at the worst possible time of day. Within 10 minutes I was drenched in sweat, within 15 minutes I was lost.
Two hours, many requests for directions (apparently there were metal medallions that I was supposed to follow), gallons of sweat, a bathroom break behind a bush on the side of the highway, and a seemingly endless uphill climb later I stumbled (literally) into my first albuergue, where I was informed by a kindly old man that he had saved the last bed just for me.
After spending some time assuring my dorm-mates that I wasn’t about to stroke out – despite my beet red face – I spent the rest of the evening drinking wine, talking, questioning my sanity for attempting this walk, and ruthlessly culling unneeded crap from other peoples backpacks (seriously, who brings 4 long-sleeve shirts AND a coat?!?) before climbing the stairs to my top bunk and laying down with the hope of quickly falling asleep.