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Pamplona is, by all accounts, one of the nicer cities on the Camino. Plenty of food, a chance to get a massage, restock at Caminoteca, send some things home, and lots of apparently amazing albergues.

I, of course, had to fuck all this up.

Arriving in Pamplona, which the French call Pampelun by the way, a name I like almost better, I checked into Casa Paderborn, an albergue ran by a German St. James Fellowship from, you guessed it, Paderborn. After all this time on the Camino, in religious and municipal installations, I’ve always felt welcome and cared for. The albergue in Zubiri the night before was an example of this: an amazing pilgrims menu, welcoming host, unrushed check-in and bed assignment, a very intelligent approach to get everyone their sleep while not treating pilgrims like kids who needed a lights out before the sun had set, and more.

Paderborn was the opposite. This wasn’t an albergue, it was a clone of a German half way house, army intake, or convict work release program. We were pre-checked in the yard, our passports painstakingly transcribed into a piece of paper (taking about six times as long as it would have taken me to hike into town, find a Kinko’s, and make a copy), told to observe all the rules (which we’d be given later) and then sent inside to wait outside the headmaster’s office to be given our stamps, a lecture on rules, and the bill. Yes, we had to sit opposite a stern German guy behind an oaken desk, our papers in hand, to be spoken to. I haven’t felt like this since delinquent hour in school, back in the 80s.

I opted for a massage to get the stale taste of cobwebs and fake sanctimony oozing from the walls of Casa Paderborn out of my system. For 50€ I received something vaguely resembling a bad parody of one, dampening my mood even more.

At the albergue I met S, a girl from Sweden, and T, a Czech multi-Camino hiker. T made it very clear that he had plans for and with S (a pity, because she sounded cool and I would have loved to spend time with and listen to her story, but I’m not into the whole chest thumping thing), but I was welcome to thirdwheel it for tapas that evening. AK and A joined us, but feeling less than welcome, I headed to the post office to spend 60 bucks on a packet home, lightening my load significantly.

After climbing over an Italian pilgrim who’d moved his mattress into our room because he didn’t trust his wife near other men, I tried to sleep as the appointed “silent time” arrived around 10. Laying awake thanks to the snoring of the jealous Italian guy, the Angry Birds playing of my bunk neighbor, and the giggling of the lady above me, I didn’t fall asleep until 5, only to be woken up at 6 by our malevolent Paderborn hosts playing Pavarotti on loudspeakers throughout the house. Few things fuck up my day more than having to listen to Pavarotti, one of them being woken up by it.

The hike to Puente la Reina made more than up for it, however. It drizzled a little in the morning, which was more invigorating than annoying, and the weather kept steady, a warm but not hot day, a friendly wind blew, and I truly enjoyed the ascend up to Alto de Perdon, where I found out that the hamburger truck no longer serves vegetarian burgers or parks here on Fridays. Instead, I got to enjoy the view, take in one of the iconic places along the camino at the place where, according to the inscription on the artwork, “the way of the wind and the way of the stars cross.”

I wanted to walk. I’d overcome the first four day spell of pushing myself, now “it” began pulling me. I took a brief break for a soda at a cafe, and despite AK and A arriving shortly after and joining me, I found myself unable to sit still. My legs wanted to be back on the Camino, and so I went. A short while later I arrived in Puente la Reina, checking in, and feeling “on the Camino” for the first time again since St. Jean-Pied-de-Port.

At the cathedral in Zariquequi an obnoxious older woman, one of the bus pilgrims (more about them another day), shushed me for speaking too loudly with a pilgrim one table over. “You’re on the Camino” she hissed. Yes. I am. I am on my Camino. And the thing I know about it, is that like the snoring, the farting, the Angry Birds, the shitty hostelieros, the bad massages, the blisters, the sore feet, the cramping stomach, you’re not on the Camino until you’ve learned to ignore everything else and concentrate on yourself and your Camino. I’ve arrived. From here on out, Ultreïa.

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