Saturday, April 16
Distance: 21.7 km
10:00 – It will be a late start today due to the fact that I had a private room, great bed, great pillow, great shower, and great breakfast at Hotel El Circo. Although it’s not a very pilgrim-like sentiment, I’m going to miss this place. Actually, I’m going to miss this place because it’s not very pilgrim-like.
10:50 – After a coffee con leche and requisite selfie at Bar Mikel, I’m finally on my way.
10:55 – At the edge of town you come to a Roman bridge that is said to be the most photographed bridge on the entire Camino Frances. I walked across the bridge then headed downstream to a modern highway bridge to get this shot.
11:26 – After a long, flat and sometimes downhill section to start the day, it’s time to start climbing. Today won’t be nearly as tough as the first three days in terms of elevation gained. This isn’t the best planning on my part as I’m up to a challenge today after a rest day in Puente la Reina.
13:08 – There wasn’t much to see in Acualumen but Cirauqui looks a little more interesting. The town was built on a hill and like most of these rural towns, the church was built atop the highest point in town. The Camino always passes the church as it was the churches who originally gave food and shelter to pilgrims. In this case it’s the Church of San Roman and it dates from the 13th century. The church is closed, like all but one door in town. The one variety store / deli that was open didn’t have anything of great interest so a few of us decided to keep walking. Surely there’d be something better in the town square. There was not. Now I’m eating rains and an apple that I stashed away yesterday. It’s not seared foie gras on baguette with carmelized pear but all is good.
13:20 – I just spent 40 minutes walking with Angela from Australia. We met at the hostel in Saint Jean Pied de Port but haven’t seen each other since. Angela has an interesting story. She practised law in Sydney for many years but never did have a passion for it so when she and her law partner / husband split up, she decided to go back to school and get her teacher’s certificate. All her life she had wished she was teaching theology so that was what she planned to do with the last 10 years of her working life. Well, she got the teacher’s certificate but finding a school that needed a theology teacher was a bit of a challenge. She ended up teaching law to high school students for 10 years. She has since retired from teaching and has been traveling for four years. This is her 13th Camino! Do I see a bit of myself in Angela? Perhaps. I don’t expect to be teaching law or theology but a career change and much, much more travel are probably in my next 10 years.
13:50 – Shortly after leaving Cirauqui, the Camino throws one of those juxtapositions at you that in any another situation you’d probably overlook. When the only thing on your mind is putting one foot in front of the other, you tend to notice things like an overpass and 6-lane modern highway running parallel to a thousand-year-old bridge and a stone road over which Roman soldiers marched to battle.
14:30 – It’s been overcast all morning but not until the last 10 minutes did it actually look like it might rain. Now I’m not so sure.
14:40 – I should have put the poncho on 10 minutes ago. There was a flash of lightning and a torrential downpour started seconds after I made that last note to myself. I now have the poncho on and I’m standing under a bridge but I am soaked.
15:00 – I wasn’t planning to stay in the town of Lorca but with a well-rated hostel that advertises dinner with unlimited wine for 10€, there might be a change of plans. Tomorrow I can either cover the last 8km of today’s leg and call it an early day or try to do 1-1/2 stages. The quality of the wine at Bodega de la Lorca will probably decide that question.
Sunday, April 17
9:05 – There was a vending machine in the hostel lobby but no breakfast was available so I decided to walk on an empty stomach. I was tempted to have a coffee from the vending machine but I convinced myself that a coffee in Estella will be all that much better if I wait. Estella is only about 8km down the road.
9:55 – When guide books refer to “the ruins of Hospital de Peregrinos de Arandigoyen” they really mean “ruins.” Although built in 1066, there’s not much left now.
10:15 – It’s been a very quiet morning and in many ways a perfect day for walking. I’m comfortable with two t-shirts and a hoodie but when the sun goes behind a cloud it is definitely brisk and forces you to pick up the pace. The only sounds along the way are the birds happily chirping in the trees and the many babbling brooks that I cross or walk alongside. It doesn’t get much more peaceful than this.
10:15 – I wasn’t aware that I’d be passing through the town of Villatuerta so initially I thought it was Estella. On the edge of town I stopped to take a photo of another white horse. He wasn’t tethered and the only fence was a string of blue twine that ran from post to tree to post. But do you think I could coax him over to the fence for a head scratch? He stood 10 m away and whinnied incessantly but he would not come near me.
10:17 – Zzzzzap! If I had a head of hair, it would be doing a ‘Don King’ right about now. I survived the jolt and instantly lost any desire for caffeine. So that’s why the horse was avoiding me.
11:45 – This old stone church was just a few hundred meters off the path yet most pilgrims walked right past it. I wasn’t in any rush so I made the short detour to check out the 13th century Church of San Miguel.
St Miguel (Michael) was the Archangel and he is said to have lead the heavenly armies against the devil’s troops. Or at least that’s what Ron told me at dinner the other night. He’s done the Camino several times and says that he always stops at this church and only this church. He’s not the least bit religious or even spiritual yet this church draws him in every time.
12:50 – I walk into the town of Estella with a group of five women from Thornhill, Ontario. Some of them have done the Camino multiple times and they are arguing about which hostel is the best.
13:00 – An old women was unlocking the door to the Municipal Albergue as I passed so I took that as a sign that it’s the one for me. I have done absolutely no research into what I’ll see along the Camino and I have no reservations or even thoughts on where I’ll stay in any particular town. That’s just the way I roll, I guess.
13:30 – By being one of the first to check into a hostel, I have secured the best bed in the joint. In my opinion, the best bed is generally on the second level (less street noise), in a corner (half as many neighbours) and furthest from the bathroom as possible. If there’s a door on the dorm and the lock makes any noise whatsoever, find a bed as far away from that as well. This one fits the bill on all four counts.
15:00 – The vending machine in the lobby sells all the usual snacks but also cans of Heineken for 1.5€ and plastic packs of local olives in oil for 1€. Not a bad appetizer.
19:00 – After downing a quick beer, I order cream of asparagus soup and a chicken breast. Let’s see how long this takes! The lone employee is running off her feet making espresso and pouring pints for two large groups. At one end of the room we have about 40 people who are glued to a TV showing a Sunday night football (soccer) match. At the other end of the room are about 15 people who are intently watching jaialai on a large screen TV. I don’t want to stand out so I’m sitting right in the middle.
19:50 –The soup was fresh – I saw the women chopping asparagus in the kitchen – but the chicken breast was pounded into something the size and shape of a Frisbee. After being left on a searing hot grill for about 20 minutes, it was also the consistency of a Frisbee. This bar has its charms but next time I’ll stick to the beer and olives.
20:10 – They’ll soon be rolling up the sidewalks in Estella so I head back to the hostel. Tomorrow I will walk 21 km to Los Arcos.