Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 29: Politically Incorrect… or is it?

Dscn1657bSeptember 9: The morning was clear and beautiful, and I started the day’s hike having fortified myself with toast, a banana, orange juice, and the usual breakfast items you’ll see offered by hotels. On my way out of town, I stopped to wander around the Citadel, an ancient fortification to protect the city from attack in a bygone era. It’s still astounding to me that they invested in such large structures so many hundreds of years ago without the technological advances of power tools, excavators, cranes, and such. And still they still had the aesthetics to make them beautiful structures as well that people like me could admire hundreds of years later.


The trail out of Pamplona first required going through suburbs, which wasn’t particularly nice or pleasant, but once we got out of that, the trail steadily climbed higher into the mountains towards some wind farms. I didn’t see many other pilgrims at first since the alburgues kick out the hikers by 8:30 or so in the morning while I could sleep in much later and take my time leave the hotel. My hotel didn’t require me to checkout until noon—not that I waited until the last minute to check out either. But it meant I was quite a ways behind the bulk of the pilgrims, but I caught up to the mass of humanity climbing the slopes to the high point of the day at Alto del Perdon where I found quite a few of them struggling up the slope.


As far as slopes go, it was probably one of the steeper sections of the trail, but compared to other trails I’ve done, it wasn’t much of anything. An AT thru-hiker would have laughed and called the section flat. =) But many of the other pilgrims were not in the best of shape to begin with and now suffered from blisters and other ailments, their bodies protesting at the abuse compared to their normally sedentary lifestyles. For the vast majority of the pilgrims, this was only their third or fourth day on the trail. Almost nobody was trail-hardened… yet.


The high point of the day, Alto del Perdon, had wonderful views, but was more famous for the pilgrim monument. They did some filming for The Way up here, with the cutout figures from metal plates serving as a backdrop. When I arrived, the place was packed with pilgrims taking photos, and I joined the fray as we all tried to stay out of each other’s perfectly set-up photos.


Dscn1660bI wanted more than a boring old photo of me next to the cutout figures, though, and tried to integrate myself into them. A few of the figures looked like they were struggling through the wind—this ridge is often windy, which is probably why they built a wind farm along it—but today the wind was nothing more than the slightest of breezes. But I put myself among the cutouts, leaning forward steeply like I was pushing through a strong wind and holding my hat to my head so it wouldn’t blow off.


I liked the image, but I wanted to do more than that and sat down watching other people take photos and looking at the various cutouts for ideas. A couple of them were horses, and I wondered if I could get on it and pretend like I was riding a horse. I got up and scoped things out and thought it could be done, but I had to be careful. These weren’t 3-dimensional objects, and sitting on one would be like straddling a very narrow fence, perhaps a quarter-inch thick. If I slipped, it could be very painful for the groin! I carefully climbed up to one of the horses, though, and tried to look like I was comfortably riding the horse. (It was NOT comfortable at all—I’ll tell you that!) Then asked another pilgrim to take a couple of photos of me. I liked the results. =)


I ate lunch at the top and admired the views before continuing on to Puenta de la Reina, which is a town whose name translates to “Bridge of the Queen.” Hundreds of years ago, pilgrims had to cross the River Arga here, and ferrymen would charge outrageous prices to shuttle them across. So Doña Mayor, wife of King Sancho III, ordered the bridge to be built so pilgrims could cross for free, and hundreds years later, they continue to do so. Bridges then were built to last!


I checked into the local municipal albergue. I’m not really sure what possessed me to do that. Actually, yes, I do. I liked talking to people. I had hiked for so long without anyone to talk to, I absolutely loved the company of others. So I could have camped out, but chose not to so I’d have more people to talk to.


Much of the afternoon, I spent chatting with Vivian and her Australian friends. Vivian, if you don’t remember, I met coming into Roncesvalles, struggling on her descent from the Pyrenees. I’d seen her a couple of times since then, and always came up on her asking if there was anything she needed. She’d call me her “angel,” and I’d joked that I “sensed” she needed my help so I dropped by to help. =) She seemed in much better spirits now, though, and didn’t need my help anymore. But I’d still walk with her for awhile just for the joy of chatting. And in Puenta de la Reina, we sat outside a bar for a couple of hours with a few others and chatted the rest of the afternoon away.


Dscn1662bAll good things must come to an end, however, and we eventually parted ways. I headed back to the alburgue to make dinner. The alburgue had a kitchen, which I poked my head into, but it was crowded with other pilgrims also making dinner so I decided to take my meal out in back and cook on my soda can stove. All of the tables out back were already taken, but I noticed one that had only one person—the Polish girl I had crossed paths briefly with two days earlier. She was the only familiar face I saw, and the table she was at easily had room for another person, so I wandered over. I tried to remember how to say “Good morning” in Polish but butchered it when I walked up. =)


And I cooked dinner. That first time we met, we hadn’t talked for more than five minutes, but this time I learned her name was Karolina, a recently graduated student who had been living in the Netherlands learning to turn urine into electricity. She was studying water technologies, and worked on research for turning urine into electricity. I can’t make this stuff up. =) She had all sorts of interesting anecdotes about that, including stories of urine samples splashing into her eyes. Yeah, I’m glad I just work on computers. =)


She seemed fascinated by my soda can stove, and after I finished dinner and cleaned up and the stove had cooled down, let her look at it. At some point, when I tried explaining what I did for a living, I pulled out my laptop and loaded up my websites. I didn’t get a wi-fi signal there (I checked!), but it was my entire development machine, so I could still run the local version of Atlas Quest and the soda can stove website to show off. “Look!” I said, after running a search for letterboxes in Poland, “There are even letterboxes in Poland! You could find them when you get home!”


I’m fascinated with other cultures and languages, and somewhere along the way I had asked about classes of jokes in Poland. In America, for instance, we have “blonde jokes” and “someone walks into a bar” jokes. Even without saying an actual joke, you know exactly what to expect from these kind of jokes. Do chickens cross the road in Poland? (Apparently not.) How many lives do cats have in Poland? (Seven or nine—she seemed to have trouble deciding!) And they do have “blonde jokes” in Poland, and she told me a couple of them. =)


Dscn1667bThey also have “policemen jokes”, which are basically like blonde jokes that feature Polish policemen.


And then she said that there were also concentration camp jokes.


Really? Concentration camp jokes? I was stunned. That was an unexpected twist! So naturally, I had to ask, “Tell me a concentration camp joke.”


She told me a couple of them, which apparently didn’t translate well since she said they were based on puns in the Polish language and had to explain the jokes to me. But in any case, I was fascinated by this unexpected twist in our conversation. Concentration camp jokes? Really? And I said that in the United States, those would go over as well as black jokes or 9-11 jokes. (Which, for all I know, might happen in Poland?)


And she said it was something of a defense mechanism for the Polish people, which I guess makes sense. That era certainly wasn’t a shining moment in Polish history, but I was still surprised and fascinated.


Darkness descended as we chatted on into the night, but the air stayed relatively warm so it wasn’t until nearly 10:00 we finished our conversation and parted company. When I got back to my room, the other people had already turned off the lights and gone to sleep, so I wandered around in the dark climbing into my bunk bed for the night.


Through a suburb of Pamplona. You can see a couple of pilgrims
ahead of me on the sidewalk. =)




It was actually pretty rare not to see other pilgrims around
at all times. Even in this photo, you can see a few of them
ahead on the trail. (There were others behind me as well.)
Also, if you look closely, you can see some of the windmills along
the ridge in the background.


Off the top of my head, I don’t remember the name of this town.


This marker tells walkers to go towards the left while bicyclists
should stay to the right. I always liked sections of the trail
where it got bikes away from hikers. Not that I hate
bicyclists or anything, but it’s not always fun to be hiking near them.


I battle the imaginary winds by the pilgrim monument.


This is a very precarious position for a man to rest. =)
Fortunately, I managed to survive without any permanent injuries!


Just in case the monument wasn’t sufficient to
mark the way, some bored pilgrims also created
this arrow out of rocks. =)


Some people left messages on the rocks.


A shrine along the route.












A church in Puento de la Reina


The bridge for which Puenta de la Reina is named. =)


I just love these door knockers. =)


Laundry drying at the alburgue.


Anonymous said...

..."you can see some of the windmills along
the ridge in the background"

This photo makes me think so much of CA compared to that of the French countryside!


Ryan said...

There was a LOT of the Spanish countryside that reminded me of Southern and Central California! *nodding* =)

-- Ryan

Amanda from Seattle said...

You have to think that the Spanish explorers to North America were very happy to see areas that looked like home to them!