Sky-high scenery and short-term nostalgia.
Long-distance hikers like envisioning their upcoming trails. The mere thought of mountains, forests, farmland or seaside scenery is enough to inflame the senses; the Camino Francés has more uplifting material than most. Iconic visuals from ‘The Way‘, starring Martin Sheen, have inspired modern-day pilgrims since 2010. While I’d enjoyed several familiar scenes from the movie leading into Day 4, none were as evocative as the soaring views aloft Alto del Perdón.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 4
Our dorm room awoke to the sound of a melodic Bach symphony filtering through the Albergue’s speakers. The spirited orchestral piece conjured visions from Day 3’s arrival into the lively city of Pamplona; though, it was the visuals of a half-naked hospitalero that will be forever seared into my memory.
As I was behind with my packing, I wandered down the stairs and into the dining area with only a handful of minutes remaining for breakfast. I quickly grabbed a piece of toast and made myself a warming drink. Though, before I could finish either, the cutlery and crockery were whisked away to the kitchen. I had once again exceeded the German’s immovable schedule. And, at €3, it was officially the most expensive scrap of toast and three sips of half-steeped tea I’d ever consumed.
The road from Pamplona’s old town led us out through ancient architecture, manicured parkland, bustling suburbia and finally to the edge of the outlying agricultural district. We could see the snaking path continue through the budding green wheat fields and up toward the windmill-lined range that overlooked the city. The ascent would be a sweaty uphill battle, but our effort would be repaid in full at the iconic Alto del Perdón.
The long winding route was understandably arduous, but we were constantly compensated with elevated panoramas of flourishing farmland, rippling distant ranges and Pamplona’s burgeoning metropolitan sprawl.
After several hours of climbing, including a well-earned baguette stop in Zariquiegui, we arrived at the distinctive pilgrim-inspired sculpture that marked the sierra’s summit. This famous tribute to pilgrims past and present celebrates their demanding journey and encourages them to keep pushing forward.
Where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars.
Alto del Perdón Sculpture Inscription
The monument was indeed moving, but all I could think about was the quote from the ‘The Way’, shouted by a disgruntled Joost while hiking past these silhouettes—‘What? You can do this on a bike? Why the hell are we walking?’
Our group’s well-read Italian Chiara had thankfully taken the reins as the team tour guide. Long-distance hiking can often drain your brain, and we were all grateful for her passion and research of the Camino’s historic path. She had spotted a unique highlight on her map—the mysterious 12th-century Santa María de Eunate. The following 2.4-kilometre detour led us through Navarre’s agricultural countryside and to the gates of the octagonal edifice.
This enigmatic church was advertised as one of the ‘jewels in the Camino crown’, though, by the time we arrived, I didn’t have the energy or concentration to appreciate its timelessness. Plus, this lavish description had already been applied to several other sites since Day 1; the term was nearing absurdity—exactly how large is this metaphorical crown? I dragged my bag to the chapel’s encircling lawn, dropped beside it and stared aimlessly into the cloudless atmosphere.
After an hour of sky-gazing, our weary feet shuffled back onto the dusty track leading away from our religious reroute; the toil of the day had finally overhauled our enthusiasm. A series of national sing-a-longs and stimulating mind games powered us along the final stretch and up the merciless slope into Obanos and the Albergue Usda.
The sight of a dorm stocked with empty bunk beds filled us with unbridled joy—fewer bodies meant less chance of an overnight snore-storm. I found a mattress in the darkest, quietest corner of the room and momentarily collapsed. Thankfully, the village’s only open eatery was spitting distance from the Albergue, so we barely had to think. We could just chew, and fall asleep. Our brains could be saved for Day 5’s onward jaunt to Estella.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
The road from Pamplona soars up to Alto del Perdón then slopes down sharply into a valley, before again climbing toward Obanos. A day of abrupt gradients and distinctive sights.