Camino Postcard 6: Estella to Los Arcos

Winning with wine

Every so often on the Camino Francés we’d find rock images on the road. This one is unusual because it also contains a message written in the cement

16.4.19. So, last night, I didn’t eat. This morning, I didn’t eat, either. This was a bit of an issue. Firstly, and most obviously, because it might affect my ability to walk. Or rather, walk very far. Secondly, it was proof of a bad habit of mine rearing its ugly head again – not taking proper care of myself. A long time ago I used to live by myself and when I did, I fainted on two separate occasions because I had not got round to eating for too long. It was my own fault – I put other things first, things that I enjoyed more, like reading, and as a result never got round to eating until whump. I fell over. On both occasions I was fortunate not to hurt myself. Would that happen today?

Fortunately, it didn’t. I stepped out of the albergue and made some last adjustments to myself before getting ready to walk. As I did so, Ellena and Carolin appeared. We said ‘hello’ to each other, started chatting, and then started walking together. We’d keep doing so until 23rd May when we finally said out goodbyes at Santiago airport. In that time, Ellena kept us all on the straight and sensible, including in respect of eating.

As the sun rose, the day grew warmer. Our target was Los Arcos, nearly 25 kilometres away. Our first stop, however, was five kilometres up the road: Irache. For here was a most wonderful, marvellous, and magnificent thing that blesses Spain by its presence: a free wine tap.

A free wine tap?

Yes! A free wine tap; put there for thirsty pilgrims to drink out of their shells before continuing on their way. When we reached the tap, I realised that I had tied my shell to my backpack too tightly to free it. Ellena did a very holy thing, though, and let me fill her shell up and drink from it. Not instead of her – I could not have lived with myself if I had deprived her of wine – but after she had had her sip. We drank. We marvelled at the presence of the tap, drank, and went on our way.

Free wine! A highlight of the Camino

At this point, please let me rail against those pilgrims – if so they be – who abuse the kindness of whoever donates the wine by not drinking it from their shells but by actually filling their water bottles. These people are extremely selfish, scurvy, and abominable. Let them be anathema. There is only so much wine to be dispensed every day. By filling one’s water bottle, one is depriving needy pilgrims of the opportunity of drinking it, and that is a dreadful thing to do. If you are one of those people I implore you to get on your knees and seek the good Lord’s forgiveness. There is no sin He will not forgive, even one as bad as this, though he may make you drink sparkling water for ten years in reparation.

Okay, I’ve got that out of my system. Let’s keep walking. Rather knavishly, the path now went uphill. It soon levelled out though and we made good progress until the heat of the day inspired us to take a break.

As we walked through – ? Possibly Azqueta, but wherever we were, we came upon a bunch (or a gaggle? What is the appropriate collective noun?) of pilgrims sitting outside a café. If it’s good for the goose -. We sat down at a free table. While outside the café, we met a couple of nice dogs. During the Camino, we would meet numerous canines, nearly all of them friendly. And if they were nervous, Ellena had the gift of calming them. She was our dog-whisperer.

Bu today, we sat down. I bought some lolly pops. We met George, an American who was walking the Camino with his husband. I liked George and was very happy when we met him again further on. Unfortunately, his husband (whose name I can’t remember) didn’t enjoy the walking and flew back to America. George kept walking, I hope to Santiago.

So, we ate our lolly pops. Ellena and Carolin ate theirs with their hands wrapped in their sleeves. It may have been a hot day but the lolly pops were too cold to touch!

Along the Way we found this pool on the side of the road… it’s purpose?

Upon leaving Possibly Azqueta (if indeed it was) we began climbing to the highest point of the day – Monjardin, 690 metres above sea level.

According to my journal, Ellena and Carolin’s pace today was better than mine over the first few days. This doesn’t mean that we walked fast but rather than we walked without stopping and starting, which I had done a lot of when walking by myself. There is more good news. I recorded in my journal that today my dodgy right leg (i.e. thigh) was only ‘tender’ rather than sore. It would be a few more days, though, until I could walk without using ibuprofen.

Later on, and in the middle of nowhere, we came across another van-bar. This one was a but more developed than the van-bar I had come across on the way to Zubiri for it not only had more seating but also a covered area as well. There were plenty of pilgrims sitting around, including an Englishman – a relative rarity on this Camino – named Tony who Ellena and Carolin already knew and I would get to know.

That afternoon, Ellena started walking ahead of us. She got further… and further… and further ahead until finally, there was no sight of her. No problem, I thought, we’ll meet her in Los Arcos, which we were now approaching.

Except, we didn’t. Carolin and I arrived in the town and there was no sight of her. What to do? Well, we eventually made our way to the municipal albergue where we found her. I can’t remember if we got lucky or if Carolin knew that Ellena would be there.

That evening, we relaxed outside the albergue, among a neat collection of sculptures (see right) and ate pizza from a local shop. I chatted with a man from Barcelona about this and that and nearly left my phone on a bench. Later, Ellena and Carolin would eat with other pilgrims. By then, I was happy simply to rest and let sleep carry me into the next day. It would not arrive, though, without upset and a visit from the police…

Camino Postcard 5: Puenta la Reina to Estella

O’er the hills and through the trees,
We’ll go ridin’ you and me…

15.4.19. This morning, I went to the albergue-hotel dining room via the internal stairs and ate breakfast. During the time I was there I forget where the stairs were and managed to get lost looking for them.

The car park at the albergue-hotel at Puenta la Reina

Eventually, I admitted defeat and returned downstairs via the car park outside. There, I met Ellena and Carolin who had already eaten and were beginning the day’s walk. Ellena and I exchanged phone numbers so that she could tell me if there was any room at the albergue they were intending to stay at tonight – we were all heading to Estella.

At this point, I didn’t know if Ellena really would contact me. I hoped she would but maybe the idea would slip out of her head, or she would decide that one evening in my presence was enough, and move on. I would be sad if that was the case because she and Carolin had been such good company yesterday but one has to respect other people’s decisions.

As I think about my departure from Estella now, I can’t ‘see’ the path that I took that morning. The memory has been crowded out. Looking at my journal entry for that day (written a day or so later), however, it appears that the morning walk was a tough one. Brierley’s guide shows why – it was uphill. That would have made my leg ache. Day five of taking ibuprofen.

A memory returns – I recall eating elevenses at a café after climbing a narrow and steep alleyway. As I arrived at the café, I saw Ellena and Carolin sitting on a nearby wall, their backs to me. It would have been polite to go and say ‘hello’ but I was too shy to interrupt them, and maybe they wouldn’t want to speak to me, anyway. Not that they had shown any signs in Estella of being bored by me, of course – quite the opposite. Not long after I arrived, they left, and so the immediate problem resolved itself. The deeper problem of not worrying so much remains.

A street mirror selfie, taking somewhere between Puenta la Reina and Estella!

At the café I met a very friendly Australian couple. They told me that after they finished the Camino they would be taking a holiday in Portugal. What’s more, their whole European excursion was being done on full pay from work! Apparently, Australians are able to go on paid leave from work for 15 weeks in order to visit their ancestral homelands. I presume this is a one time thing but what a good deal!

I left the couple at the café but met them again at lunchtime in the little village of Lorca. They invited me to join them for lunch. Full of gratitude for their kindness, I was very happy to accept. We ate pizza and talked about everything for a clean hour.

My right leg had been really aching by the time of my arrival in Lorca but was so well rested over the course of that hour that for the first twenty minutes after leaving, I walked with my best pace yet. Even when my leg started to tire and ache a little again, I was able to keep going at a good speed.

Ponies quite rightly ignoring me and grooming each other

The afternoon had two highlights: stopping for a break outside an enclosed graveyard (most, if not all, of the graveyards I saw were walled. One or two were right next to playgrounds. Perhaps the Spanish like to teach their children about the circle of life early) during my supercharged walk and watching the world, or rather, pilgrims, pass by and seeing some ponies in a field. There was no one nearby so I started singing Pony Boy by Bruce Springsteen to myself. A minute or two later, their owner arrived in his car and started calling them. In the languid way that ponies and horses have, they trotted towards him.

By the time I reached Estella I had not heard from Ellena. I had not seen her or Carolin again after the café so knew they were almost certainly ahead of me. My heart fell but there was nothing to be done: they had to take their path just as I had to take mine and maybe it was not meant to be that we would meet each other again.

However… Later on, Ellena did indeed text message me. She and Carolin were staying at ~ ~ actually, I can’t remember but it didn’t matter, for she had texted! I will have to ask her this but I don’t believe we made any plans to meet again in the texts. When we met the next morning, it was by chance.

As for that evening, after checking in to the albergue, I walked back up the road to a green opposite a beautiful old gothic church. I sat there for a while, drinking my Coca-Cola and soaking up the sun. It became cloudy, though, and soon, thunder began to roll. I returned to the albergue and that evening, the heavens opened.

As the rain poured down, I rested. That night, I didn’t eat. This albergue didn’t make meals and I hadn’t been able to find a supermarket before the thunder arrived. I went to bed that night happy but hungry.

I’m rather fond of this photograph. I’m sitting on grass, relaxed and in front of a beautiful gothic church. Look at the blue sky! It’s hard to believe thunder started not long later