Magical Moments…the road to Los Arcos (21.4 kms)
Perhaps it was the early morning glass of wine at the Bodegas Irache wine fountain Fuente del Vino or perhaps the breakfast feast of fresh fruit and apple tart, freshly squeezed orange juice and good coffee at the hotel in Estella or perhaps simply that the sun was shining and the rolling countryside of burnt red earth, craggy mountains in the distance was both serene and stunning. Whatever the reason this is the day I have retained in my memory banks. It also is the one-day I enjoyed from start to finish.
Like other pilgrims/walkers before me along the Way I had left items that were deemed essential in the guidebooks and Youtube videos however, I kept one item especially for this day; a melamine cup covered in pictures of kiwi memorabilia. This was the day the Way passed Bodegas Irache and the famous wine fountain Fuente del Vino where pilgrims pump their own wine into bottles, cups or their Camino shells. We lined up with the rest of the walkers, some of whom were friends. Michael insisted upon having his photo taken with his mouth under the fountain tap, I went for the more sedate and patriotic photo of the Kiwi contingent of Team Anzac and the kiwi mug.
We had been separated from Dean due to lack of accommodation in Estella. As he hadn’t caught up with us by mid-morning we assumed Dean was doing his routine; sleeping until he was kicked out of the Albergue.
Another 0.5kms along the track we found a Compostela Santiago wayfaring stone. All along the way these wayfaring stones have become shrines, perhaps struggling walkers need the urge to leave something behind as a talisman or as a gift to St James in the hope this will make the Way easier; up until today it was hard to imagine the importance of doing so. Today though I felt the mug had served its purpose and I thought that for fellow Kiwis walking the Way in days to come it would be fun to come upon reminders of home; the tiki, native birds and the fern. I sat the cup upon the wayfaring stone, weighted it down with a large stone found in the rubble on the edge of the path; then posed for the ceremonial photo shot.
Once past Hotel Irache, a rather industrial looking hotel and camping complex, we entered a Holm oak and pine forest pathway. We emerged from the forest into this wide expansive vista of recently ploughed fields, blue skies and white fluffy clouds, out on the horizon, almost like a postcard border sat a long and rugged mountain range. We all paused to take photos.
From this point we walked in unison, maintaining a walking rhythm, which Michael likened to this army days. It wasn’t too fast or too slow but given the pathway only climbed and descended 150m and the scenery continued to be through vineyards and rolling countryside, Lisa and I could maintain it.
We purchased bread, cheeses, cold meats and potato crisps to have a picnic lunch later in the day, at Villa Mayor de Monjardín; a small village with buildings clinging to the steep precipice of Mount Castillo. The small store was selling delicious pastries, baguettes and café. Although we were carrying our lunch we still stopped at a food-truck and took advantage of the chairs and shade to either allow boots to air and foot repairs to be made. We sat and ate our lunch however, the vigilant vendor made sure we purchased drinks from him.
We arrived at Los Arcos slightly ahead of the walking pack. Excited at our early arrival and proud of our walking achievement Michael wanted to savor the moment. He left Lisa and I to find our Albergue and stayed at the first bar off the Way waiting for Dean to arrive and to watch other walkers stagger into the town. He didn’t get to see Dean. Nor did we see him around the town square or over by the Pilgrim Albergue. It would be two days before we would be reunited. With no means to contact us, Dean was sans-cellphone, and failing to find us in Estella he had an early night and therefore, an early start. Arriving in Los Arcos Dean was unable to secure a bed for the night and had to walk onto Torres del Rio; another 8kms, before finding accommodation. We had pre-booked accommodation for the four of us, his vacant bed in our small room didn’t go to waste; Michael claimed it for his large medical pack and to spread out a little. Sans Dean we also had another early night
Day 4…Dean had caught up with us in the hillside village of Zariquiegui, 2.4km from the summit of Alto del Perdón, a 390m climb from Pamplona. Together we climbed the final ascent to the summit and the famous wrought iron sculpture of medieval pilgrims. After photo’s and a brief break we managed the deadly descend over loose stones and boulders, down into scrubland, which lead us into the small suburban looking village of Uterga. We found a bar and restaurant with a covered outdoor setting area and stopped for lunch. Soon to be joined by Olga from Holland our roommate in Puente la Reina. We left the bar and restaurant walking in pairs along a grey stony winding pathway. Dean and I were in deep conversation as we rounded a slight bend…next minute I was flying. I landed face upwards, suspended in a blackberry bush. Dean was in hysterics asking me if I could do it again. He wanted to video my brief flight. I lay there bewildered. Next minute Dean had hauled me out and I was once again upright on my feet. An encore performance was not going to happen.
Day 5…The Roman roads between Cirauqui and Lorca were heavily eroded, and definitely not a gentle path; for those non-intrepid walkers like myself hazardous and requiring both concentrating and good balance. On the descendant down to a dried up tributary of the Rio Salado the pathway consisted of bare earth and large stones; all shades of ochre from honey yellow to deep orange. Once we crossed the tributary the only way up was to clamber over these large stones. Ahead of me Michael was helping people up the track. As I climbed onto one of the stones my balance faulted.
“You’re not going to fall again,” said Michael as he grabbed me and yanked me off the stone and up onto the path above it.
My friends in France have asked if I will come back to finish the walk. I’m off the opinion that given I had the privilege of meeting three warm, kind and generous people to walk with, coming back solo would not be option. I am also of the opinion that I would need to undertake a longer and more robust training program; including walking some mountains. As walking is still a challenge all this seems a long way off in the future.
In the meantime I have received a poignant message from a dear friend, which resonated with my own thoughts. “It sounds as if you are having the experiences that you are supposed to have, rather than trying to relive someone else’s journey, praying there will be lots more wondrous magical moments for you to experience this holiday.”