The pilgrimage is starting to gather legs.

Beginning a long-distance trail as a solo hiker can be daunting—you never know what, or who, you will bump into. However, Camino Francés is built a little differently. With a steady progression of provincial villages and welcoming walkers, the path will inevitably align you with like-minded souls travelling in the same direction. By the end of Day 3, our budding group had blossomed into a posse of positive Pamplona-bound pilgrims.

Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 3

The conditions walking out of Larrasoaña emulated Day 2’s morning misery; more dense fog, threatening clouds and frigid temperatures. Considering we were hiking through a European summer, I suspected this was a regional alpine quirk. Thankfully, the filmy mist soon dissipated and the valley’s dappled light illuminated the now-familiar luxuriant undergrowth.

The morning’s trek included a number of tiny villages, a steepling climb to ding the church bell at Iglesia de San Esteban and a relative menagerie of domesticated animals. Miniature horses, sheep, dairy cows, dogs, barn cats, chickens and geese all approached us as we passed.

Chickens Camino

These ladies had plenty to say on our arrival.

At almost every stop along the way, we accumulated wandering pilgrims, including a cheerful Chilean called Natalia. We first crossed paths battling through the rain on Day 2, and this encounter left a weighty impression. The Camino Francés was Natalia’s first trail of any great distance, and by the looks of her luggage, she had planned to walk for years (or at least die trying). On top of her gargantuan backpack, she had also attached a bulging ‘frontpack’ to her diminutive 5-foot frame. At first glance, I didn’t quite know what to make of the tarp-drenched tent lumbering toward me, but we quickly became close friends and I promised we would address her packing list once we arrived in Pamplona.

Larrasoana cat Camino

Preparing for another day of pilgrim pats.

As excited as I was to see the Navarre capital, I wasn’t entirely thrilled by the sight of urbanised landscapes, busy motorways and industrial smokestacks. Nevertheless, the straightforward stretch reconnected us with the stunning Río Arga waterway. We passed the medieval suburb of Trinidad de Arre, jumped over the 12th-century Puente Magdalena bridge and arrived at our homely accommodation for the night—the German pilgrim association-run Casa Paderborn.

We were welcomed at our distinctly-Deutsch lodgings by our warm, but unmistakably disciplined, hosts. We each received a glass of water, a dry biscuit and a hard wooden chair to sit on. After a brief, but cordial chat, we were informed of the house rules. Amongst this lengthy list was an uncompromising 10 pm lights-out curfew—we had to move fast if we wanted to absorb the city. We threw our bags in our dorm, showered, patched up our aches and scrambled out the door.

Pamplona (Basque Iruña) capital of both the province and the autonomous community of Navarre, was founded in 75 BC by Julius Caesar’s rival Pompey as a military settlement during his campaign against Quintus Sertorius, leader of a revolt against Rome.
britannica.com

Pamplona’s bubbling hive of old-town activity was all that I’d hoped for. University students laughed and drank merrily on the cobblestone sidewalks, the sound of jovial travellers reverberated through the streets and a series of brass bands performed in the nearby Plaza Consistorial. The atmosphere was boundlessly exuberant. We ordered a round of pintxos, a jug of sangria and attempted to take it all in.

Pamplona Plaza Consistorial Band Camino

Front stage at the concert series.

By the time we finished our fourth round of drinks, our group had expanded to 15 merry pilgrims—and getting merrier by the moment. While I relished the festive company, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the city’s twilight charm; I needed to capture Pamplona through a decent lens. I dashed back to the Albergue, collected my DSLR camera and made my way to the balconied Mirador del Caballo Blanco for the sunset.

Sunset in Pamplona at the Mirador del Caballo Blanco Camino

I could have spent hours happy-snapping the city’s ancient architecture, but I was acutely aware of my dwindling energy and the strict 10 pm curfew. I arrived back in the dorm to discover complete anarchy. Earsplitting Polish drum and bass thundered from one corner, a bottle of Austrian schnapps was being passed around the other and bodies had amassed in the middle to help trim Natalia’s extravagant bag. Random pieces of jewellery, clothing, shoes, cutlery and food lay strewn across the floor. It was chaos. I gulped forebodingly; given the directory of strict rules our German caretakers had listed, it wouldn’t take long for their rigid iron fist to slam down on us.

As much as I wanted to avoid conflict, there was little I could do now—the room was past saving. I perched myself down near the window and awaited the impending storm.

A handful of minutes passed before the door flung open and the male hospitalero stood motionless at the entrance; an unaffected glaze smeared across his face. My butt gripped the chair tightly as the room held its collective breath. Then, without so much as a sound, he flipped the light switch and firmly closed the door.

We sat in darkness for a few seconds processing what had happened—I don’t think he was messing around. Someone turned the light back on and we sheepishly packed up our fun and prepared for bed. Unfortunately, I had the most to do. I grabbed my toiletries bag and tiptoed down the hall, beyond the caretaker’s quarters, and into the shower block.

Pamplona Mirador del Caballo Blanco Camino

Oh, how I wished I was still out enjoying the city’s festivities.

I had just begun brushing my teeth when a familiarly displeased figure arrived in the bathroom doorway; except this time it emerged wearing nothing but an alarmingly high pair of sleeping shorts—a tough mental image to shake.

‘Do you realise what time this is?!’ he snorted irritably. ‘Ah, yes. I’m sorry.’ I blurted through a mouth full of toothpaste. ‘I’ve just arrived back from the city, and’. ‘Enough!’ he snarled. ‘Go to bed, now’. His wiry index finger pointed back toward the dorm door. I stretched timidly for my toiletries. ‘What are you doing?!’ he boomed. ‘I said now!’ I snatched my bag and scurried past the half-naked silhouette and back into my room—he definitely wasn’t messing around.

I swallowed my toothpaste, gargled water from my bladder and slid into my bunk bed. I checked my phone before falling asleep; the time was 10:13 pm—hardly a curfew blowout, but rules are rules, I guess. Different cultures from different nationalities hold different expectations, and the Camino is brimming with diverse multiculturalism. Food for thought before Day 4’s climb to Alto del Perdón.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

15.4km

Accommodation

Casa Paderborn

Price

€10

Terrain

The urbanised route follows the Río Arga past rural homesteads, happy hamlets and busy suburbs in its gradual descent toward medieval Pamplona.