Monday, April 18, 2016
Distance: 22.5 km
9:37 – I’m sitting in a small cafe across the street from the Municipal Albergue in Estella. With trip notes for Stage 4 freshly posted to the blog and rough notes from Stage 5 now saved as a Word document, this has been a productive morning by my 2016 standards. Still, it’s time to start walking. I’d like to cover 21 kilometres by mid-afternoon.
10:00 – Shortly after leaving the old walled city of Estella I ran into Sue from Australia. For once I was the one who had done some research and it saved the day. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I knew the famed Fuente del Vino (wine fountain) was on the way out of town but very easy to miss. Sue didn’t think we would pass it until tomorrow and would likely have kept on walking had I not alerted her. According to the Codex Calixtinus, this part of Spain was known as “the land of good bread and excellent wine” as early as the 12th century. Since 1991 it has been known as the land of free wine. And since I’m all about “free” and “wine” there’s no way I’m missing this one.
“The original vineyards were near Mount Montejurra, about 2k from the medieval city of Estella, and were donated to the Monastery of Nuestra Senora la Real de Irache in 1072 by King Sancho IV of Navarre. The monastery, which also functioned as a pilgrims’ hospital, was closed in the nineteenth century, but the tradition of viticulture continues. The Wine Museum contains over 200 pieces of historical winery equipment and many bottles of wine from famous vintages.” – Wikipedia
I skipped the museum and parked myself next to the wine fountain for a few minutes. If they’re ever looking for a new slogan for this little roadside attraction, I’d suggest: ‘You get what you pay for.’
Later I visited the offices of Bodegas Irache where, if the Rioja from the fountain was not enough, one can purchase several other varietals. Unfortunately they were down to one bottle of the house specialty so I graciously refrained from emptying the shelves. Besides, it reminded me of the stuff they sterilized the combs in at Steve’s Barber Shop in Stouffville, circa 1972.
12:10 – The 13th century Gothic Fountain of the Moors is located right beside the trail as you approach the small town of Villamayor de Monjardin. I would liked to have had a photo of me dipping a toe in the crystal clear water or perhaps standing in silhouette under the gothic arches but after 20 minutes I concluded that I was probably the last pilgrim to have left Estella and no more would be coming along.
13:00 – A little further down the line I caught up with Du and Joachim. Du, 28, is from South Korea but now lives in Singapore. He recently quit his job as a health inspector but I would have guessed model or personal trainer. Joachim is in his mid-60s and hales from a mining community in the Australian Outback. I doubt he’s spent much time in the same postal code as a gym. Ironically, it was Du who was slowing us down. After a few hundred meters he rolled up the leg of his track pants to show us what he did to his knee while crossing the Pyrenees on Day 1. If I was shown a police lineup with his knee and four turnips, I’m not sure I could pick out the knee. Put it this way: If Du was a racehorse, Dr. Ballard would be on call 24-7.
13:15 – There’s only 12km to Los Arcos – my goal for today – so I took some time to check out an abandoned stone building that sat atop a low ridge, about 300 meters off the trail. I always envision finding hidden treasure whenever I visit ruins but in this case the roof and second floor had collapsed and it simply wasn’t safe to enter.
It’s not exactly ‘treasure’ but I did find a tiny piece of ancient pottery while walking back through the vineyard. Chalk up one more item for the necklace! (I have collected a bead or some type of artifact from each of the 30+ countries I’ve visited and prior to Burning Man in September I will string them together to make a necklace that tells the story of my two-year adventure. This won’t look the least bit out of place at Burning Man, I can assure you.)
17:10 – After several detours, I arrived Los Arcos and found Joachim standing outside a hostel that appeared to be closed. Just as we were about to move on, a man approached and fumbled around for his keys. Joachim used his best grade school Spanish to ask if they might have two more beds for the night. The man looked at us and said in perfect English: “I don’t know but I’ll call the owner for you.”
When I speak to a stranger and fail to detect an accent, I generally ask the person where they’re from and it’s normally close to Toronto. In this case the guy replied, “Downtown Beamsville, Ontario, Canada.”
18:20 – Joachim was sick of walking so he took a room at that pension and paid through the nose. I walked to the other end of town and got a room at Casa Alberdi that was twice the size and half the price.
When I handed over my passport (which is standard at hostels and hotels in many countries) Mrs. Alberdi marched me out to the courtyard and showed me the Canadian flag that her son had recently sent from his new home in Ottawa. If I understood her correctly, this is the only flag – other than the Basque flag – in the entire town. That sounds far-fetched but she went to great pains to explain this, even calling in a lady from across the street to act as interpreter.
20:00 – I could only find two bars that were open at 8pm. They both had outdoor seating in the town square but slim pickings when it came to food.