Magical Moments…the road to Los Arcos (21.4 km)
Perhaps it was the early morning glass of wine at the Bodegas Irache wine fountain Fuente del Vino or the breakfast feast of fresh fruit and apple tart, freshly squeezed orange juice, and good coffee at the hotel in Estella. Or maybe the glorious rolling countryside, burnt red earth and a vista of craggy mountains. Or was it simply may have been that the sun was shining? 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 before me along the Camino Frances, I had left items deemed essential in the guidebooks and Youtube videos in various Albergues. But I had hung on a melamine cup covered in pictures of kiwi memorabilia. This was the day we passed Bodegas Irache and the famous wine fountain Fuente del Vino, where pilgrims poured their own wine into bottles, cups, or 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. While I went for the more sedate and patriotic picture of the Kiwi contingent of Team Anzac and the kiwi mug.
The mug found its resting place, 0.5kms along the track, on a Compostela Santiago wayfaring stone. These wayfaring stones have become shrines, where struggling walkers leave something behind as a talisman or as a gift to St James in the hope this will make their pilgrimage easier. Up until today, it was hard to imagine the importance of doing so. However, after a night of pain caused by an infected blister, I wanted to mark the promise of a new day. Also, I thought that fellow Kiwis on the tracks would find reminders of home; the tiki, native birds and the fern, uplifting. So I weighted the cup down with a large stone found in the rubble on the edge of the path and posed for the ceremonial photo shot.
Once past Hotel Irache, and the 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 on the horizon, highlighting the long and rugged mountain range. We all paused to take photos.
Unlike yesterday, we walked in unison, maintaining a walking rhythm, which Michael likened to this army-days. It didn’t seem too fast or too slow, and thankfully the picturesque countryside terrain and the vineyards helped take our minds off the undulating track, and we maintained the pace.
We purchased bread, cheeses, cold meats and potato crisps at Villa Mayor de Monjardín, a small village with buildings clinging to the steep precipice of Mount Castillo. Inside the store stocked delicious pastries, baguettes and café.
We walked on. The trail took us down into a lush, sheltered valley. Nestled near the Rio Caudiel, we saw the food truck Eduardo – Cafe Movil. It was hard to resist the table and chairs under shady trees, so we sat and ate our picnic. Although the vigilant vendor made sure we purchased drinks from him. However, we were grateful to be sitting down, airing our boots, while repairing our battered feet.
In a previous post, I discussed the unexpected walking challenges on our Day 5 – Puente la Reina to Estella. However, as our paths hadn’t crossed with Dean’s by mid-morning, we assumed he had slept through check-out time.
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.
Later, we found out that failing to find us in Estella had an early night and, therefore, an early start. He arrived early in Los Acros but couldn’t book a bed for the night. So, he walked another 8 km before finding accommodation in Torres del Rio.
The receptionist at the hotel in Estella had helped me book accommodation in Los Acros. We had a room with four beds; however, the vacant bed didn’t go to waste as Michael claimed it for his sizeable medical pack and to spread out a little. Without Dean, it was a quiet night. With 27.8km ahead of us tomorrow, it was good to get an 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 famous wrought-iron sculpture of medieval pilgrims. Then, after photo’s and a brief break, we managed the deadly descend over loose stones and boulders, down into scrubland, which led us into the small suburban-looking village of Uterga. In a bar and restaurant on the outskirts of the Uterga, we stopped for lunch. Olga from Holland, our roommate in Puente la Reina, arrived and joined us. We headed off after lunch, walking in pairs along a grey stony winding pathway. Dean and I were in deep conversation as we rounded a slight bend. The 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. I lay there bewildered. Once Dean stopped laughing, he hauled me out of the prickly bushes.
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 giant boulders. Ahead of me, Michael was helping people up the track. I climbed up onto one of the stones and started to wobble. “You’re not going to fall again,” said Michael as he grabbed me and yanked me off the boulder and up onto the path above it.
My friends in France have asked if I will come back to finish the walk. However, as walking is still a challenge, all this seems a long way off in the future. Then there are the people, the three warm, kind and generous people I walked with, who now feel like family. And lastly, I need to make changes to my lifestyle. When I recover from my injuries, I need to strengthen my core muscles and incorporate walking into my daily life.
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.”