Camino Postcard 7: Los Arcos to Logroño

All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well

17.4.19. Last night, the most pressing matter had been bed bugs. They came up in conversation and from that moment I was concerned that I might get bitten. An American gentleman very kindly lent me his anti-bed bug spray but of course, me being me, I wondered afterwards if I had sprayed the bed adequately.

This morning, all thoughts of bed bugs disappeared: a Frenchman in the next dorm discovered that his mobile phone was missing: it wasn’t in his backpack; it wasn’t under the bed: it was gone. Then, someone else noticed that theirs had also vanished. Now, two girls in our dorm realised that not only had their phones been taken, but so had €500 that one of the girls had worked all summer for.

What had happened? I remembered yesterday seeing a pilgrim wondering over to the bed of the girl who had lost the €500 and leaning down as if to pick something up. Had he come back in the night and stolen the cash? Maybe he had just seen some dirt on the bed and picked it up. Welcome to the culture of suspicion – perhaps a worse thing than the crime itself.

The police were called. They were not fast in the coming. When they did turn up, there did not seem to be any urgency in their actions. They talked, listened, and spoke all in a very laid back way. We waited to see what would happen next. Ellena said that in Germany the police would tell everyone to empty their backpacks and check their passports but there was none of that here. Eventually, Ellena, Carolin and I simply left. No one told us we could. But when we walked out, no one ordered us back, either.

Ellena and Carolin in the early morning sun

As for me, I had got lucky: last night, as per normal, I had left my phone was beside my pillow; it would have been the easiest thing for the thief to lift it. Ellena had been lucky, too; or had she? She usually left her phone by the socket to recharge. Last night, however, she decided to keep it with her: no reason; gut instinct just told her it was the right thing to do. She wasn’t celebrating, though: how could she when an intruder had stood just inches from her bed? – She slept next to the girl who had lost her phone and money.

I’m happy to report that this story has a happy ending. A few days later, we met a pilgrim at a bus stop who was on his way back to Los Arcos: the police had caught the criminal and recovered the mobile phones. If I recall correctly, he was Romanian and may have sneaked into the albergue in the early hours – perhaps after someone went out to smoke and forgotten to lock the door? It was a very opportunistic crime but also one that was, perhaps, connected to a gang – around the time of the Los Arcos thefts, phones were also stolen from albergues in Puenta la Reina and Logroño.

The walk from Los Arcos to Logroño was a long one – 28km. I don’t remember much about it. My journal tells me that it involved a steep climb but adds, rather bravely, that it wasn’t too bad. It also reminds me that my bad toe took a turn for the worse by developing a blister. This toe (left foot, second from left) was already suffering from bruising caused by being pressed against my boot during steep descents. The blister that appeared there would be the only one on my feet during the whole Camino. Fortunately, and despite the fact that at first I only put a normal plaster on it instead of a special anti-blister one, it never caused me any great pain. Why, MJM, why? You had plenty of Compeed!

Nearly a page of my journal entry for today is taken up with concern over money. I was spending too much. I had been spending too much since the start. Unfortunately, this was inevitable as by setting my daily budget at 30 euros, I had set it too low. To be sure, walking the Camino on 30 euros is perfectly doable, but pretty much only if you limit your spending to the cost of the albergue, breakfast and dinner. If you buy anything else – lunch or a beer etc – you risk breaking the budget cap. And don’t even think about being sociable. All of these things is what I was doing.

I suppose I could have gone without lunch and a beer at the end of the walk but then I would have been very hungry and that would have taken a toll as well. I suppose too that I could have been unsociable but what kind of Camino would that have been? No more than an exercise in walking point to point and being lonely. No, that’s not good enough. I’d rather come back home penniless and blessed by the ways in which I spent my money – whether on myself or other people. Happily, that’s exactly what happened but unhappily, I still worried. If I had to come home early because of my eye or leg, that was one thing; it couldn’t be helped, but I couldn’t bear to have to return ahead of time because I spent my money too fast.

Happy Birthday Russell!

Don’t worry! Ellena said, We’ll help you if need be. Along the way, she did; we all helped each other. Doing so, whatever the (literal or figurative) cost was one of the greatest blessings that the Camino gave me.

Ellena said Don’t Worry. Unfortunately, it took me a little time to stop worrying so much. If you are thinking of doing the Camino, and if it is possible, I would certainly recommend that you set your budget at 30-40 euros per day. That will give you the space you need to treat yourself during the day, something which on difficult days you will definitely want – and should – do.

After a good day’s walking, we walked into Logroño – our second big city after Pamplona. We met a young American family whose daughter had become friends with Ellena and Carolin. She was 5 (or thereabouts) going on adult when walking alongside them. On our way through the city, we passed a man made stream made for tired pilgrim feet to bathe in.

By the way, was it today that Ellena said for the first time that when we get to Santiago we would all get Camino tattoos and then go to Finisterre to enjoy the sea before returning home? I agreed even though tattoos were not on my agenda. That was fine, I thought to myself, we are a month away from Santiago – plenty of time for Ellena to forget about the idea and for me to run out of money.

We arrived in Logroño on Holy Wednesday. That evening, a special Holy Week procession took place at the nearby church (cathedral?). Some friends that we had made went to watch it but Ellena, Carolin and I were too tired. With our phones in our sleeping bags, we fell into a deep sleep; we didn’t eve wake up when reveller pilgrims rolled into the albergue (this one remained open 24 hours) at three in the morning.

The Art of the Way
  • Be sure to read Ellena’s account of what happened from Los Arcos to Logroño here!

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

Camino Postcard 4: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

The Camino Begins Again

14.4.19. Saying goodbye to Pamplona, I left the city via the campus of Navarra university. Along the way I saw a tap, and considered taking water from it but as there wasn’t a sign saying agua potable – water drinkable – I didn’t. This was me being super cautious. But did I need to be? After all, if the water was not potable there would certainly be a sign saying so, wouldn’t there? On the other hand, I later heard from one or two other pilgrims, some nasty stories about the taps and illnesses caught from them. I never reached a firm conclusion but as I never drank from a tap after Zubiri I guess I had already made my mind up.

So, I tramped along the side of the road with a bottle half empty. Ahead of me lay hills crowned with wind turbines. They would be a constant and distant companion for some days to come. Today, my path would take me past them and to the top of the alto del Perdón – the Mount of Forgiveness. For a while, the path rose only slightly but as I approached the hamlet of Cizur Minor, the steeper upward climb began and with a couple of breaks never let up until I had reached the top of the alto. Having shed weight from my backpack in Zubiri and Pamplona, however, I found the going easier than expected.

I was a happy walker today – the alto del Perdón features in The Way and so I couldn’t wait to reach the famous sculptures at the summit and walk in the footsteps of Martin Sheen and co. Onwards I marched… until I flagged and paused to take a break.

I stopped briefly in a couple of places. Firstly, at a little plateau where a kind pilgrim took the photograph of me that (I hope) you can see to the left of this text. The photo gives just a hint of the wonderful view we had of Pamplona and the surrounding countryside.

My next stopping point was at the wonderfully named Zariquiegui. Here, I stepped into a church and got my pilgrim passport stamped and then bought some more water in the local shop. There is an albergue in Zariquiegui and as I gulped down my drink, pilgrims sat outside it, enjoying the sun and eating brunch. I tried to go in to the albergue to get another stamp but it was busy and not very big inside. As I didn’t want to hit anyone with my backpack, I made a tactical retreat.

The path wound on. Two or three weeks later I read of an American pilgrim who died on it. Requiescat in Pace. I don’t know why he died but if it was of a heart attack I think he must have brought his death with him. The path to the top of the alto was good exercise, but not especially strenuous. Perhaps the American pilgrim had a condition that was provoked by that exercise, as ‘easy’ as it was. It is a very sobering thought to think that we might be carrying around within ourselves the seeds of our deaths. Say a prayer for him and all pilgrims who have, or will, die on the Way. They die doing well before the Lord.

I reached the top of the alto. After purchasing an energy drink from a van-café I sat down to drink and enjoy the sculptures. Here is a lovely blog post about them.

By the time I arrived at the top of the alto, there were already pilgrims there. Pilgrims were coming and going all the time. I really wanted someone to take a photograph of me beside the sculptures. Who could I ask?

Two young women arrived and sat down. I recognised them. They were the friends I had met on the first day, resting against the crash barrier. One of them was very attractive. Ask them, I told myself. I didn’t. Too shy. Well, then, try not to look at them; it’s rude and they might notice. Okay.

Presently, someone asked me to take a photo of them so that gave me the opportunity to ask if they could return the favour.

After resting, I walked around taking in the atmosphere. Nearby was a police car. I asked the officers if I could photograph its badge. I’m not sure they understood me but they let me. I was keen to do so because, as you can see above, it incorporates the Roman fasces into the design.

I can’t remember if I mentioned this before but in case not, the fasces – which was a bundle of wood and an axe bound together – was the symbol of the ancient Roman Lictors. They would carry the bound wood when walking with the consuls for whom they acted as bodyguards. My heart belongs to Alexander the Great but my before I ‘discovered’ him, I lived in ancient Rome so its always a joy seeing anything that reminds me of those days.

On leaving the alto del Perdón I descended a path that for its first third was comprised of loose stones. It was very treacherous – I nearly turned my ankle several times – so progress was slow. Along the way, my fleece fell from my backpack. Luckily, someone saw and handed it back.

Eventually, I reached the end of the section. (If the Spanish government ever decided to smooth that path out I would absolutely support it. It is the only Camino trail that I hated walking). Puenta la Reina was still 12 or so kilometres away but now the path was smoother and after the town of Uterga, more or less flat. The high point of this section of the walk was being passed by two horse riders and watching them as their horses trotted on.

I approached Puenta la Reina at some point in the mid-afternoon. I was tired and in need of rest. As a result, when I saw an albergue-hotel – the Jakue – at the edge of town, I ditched my original intention of going to the municipal albergue in the centre. The Jakue would do.

One man was in charge of checking the pilgrims in. Fortunately, there were only two people in front of me. And coincidentally, they were the two women I had seen at the crash barrier and alto. I don’t remember thinking much about them at the time. I was probably too tired. I sat down and waited to check in. Presently, it was my turn. One of the women asked me if I would like a beer. Oh, would I ever! I had walked 25 kilometres so a beer would be just what the doctor ordered (possibly; he might suggest water). I didn’t respond in quite that fashion. Instead, I said words to the effect, Thank you; that would be very kind. She bought me one, and invited me to sit with her and her friend. Thus, I met Ellena and Carolin, who, though we were walking a pre-determined path, changed the course of my Camino. As it happens, Ellena has started writing her own account of her Camino journey; you can read her blog here.

We drank and had a good chat before separating. That evening, the three of us ate together, too. In between times, I hand washed my clothes and spent too many euros trying to dry them. I should have hung them outside but it was now late in the afternoon and I did not like the idea of carrying damp clothes tomorrow. Unfortunately, some albergue dryers were not really up to the task of doing what they were made to do!

And that was my day. Quietly momentous.