Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Distance: 18.5 km
8:42 – I’m leaving several new friends behind in Los Arcos. They want to take a day off before tackling the 30 km stretch to Viana. I’ve shown them several sources that indicate it’s only 19.5 km but everyone is convinced I’m wrong. Maybe they just don’t want to walk with me. Hmm.
13:44 – From a distance I would have guessed the neighbouring town of Torres del Rio would be home to 500 people or more. According to Wikipedia, the population in 2010 was 153. One hundred and fifty three! I walked the entire length of town and halfway back and I saw only one lady talking on a cellphone outside the local bank.
There are very few millennials and virtually no children in most of the small towns I’ve passed through. The pensioners who do live here rarely take to the streets and there aren’t enough of them to support even a fraction of the businesses that would once have thrived in these towns.
I would love to have seen inside the 18th century Baroque church of San Zoilo but the door was locked and a sign indicated that anyone wanting a tour should call Ophelia. Unfortunately I don’t know Ophelia and just dialling random phone numbers until I got her seemed like a lot of trouble. I kept on walking.
14:50 – Many pilgrims carry photos of deceased loved ones which they place in little stone memorials along the way.
15:35 – It might be the spring flowers or perhaps it’s the farmers tending to their fields but for some reason I can’t stop thinking about my childhood friend’s mother, Connie Redshaw, and how she used to receive a package in the mail each year around this time. In the dead of winter she would have spent many evenings studying the Dominion Seed Catalogue and come Springtime a package of flower and vegetable seeds would arrive at the post office. The local feed and seed dealers, Stiver Brothers, simply couldn’t compete with the behemoth Dominion Seed Company which offered better selection, lower prices, and a glitzy colour catalogue that no small-town operation could duplicate. It strikes me now that Dominion Seed was the Amazon of the late 1960s.
16:10 – Most of the people that I’ve met today are in a dreary mood. Some complain of aching knees, strained calf muscles or open blisters. Others could even be mistaken for the walking dead – stumbling along with too much weight on their backs, no rain protection or inappropriate footwear. Not the two who just flew by me though. These two appeared to be a husband and wife in their 40s. They may have been Dutch. The man had a perfect Ned Flanders moustache. I couldn’t help but think of the time Ned said to Homer: “I want you to hit me in the eye. If you do, we’ll be even according to Exodus, Leviticus and Matthew.” And Homey replied: “So you went and hired a law firm, eh?”
17:25 – I have arrived in Viana. (Not to be confused with Vienna, Austria of course). The first three or four hostels look pretty bleak but I know there can’t be too many more so I settle on the fifth option. There are only three people in the lounge area and I recognize two of them – Sue and Angela from Australia. We ask Matt from Denver to join us for dinner and 8:00 pm mass at the local church.
20:50 – We’re back at the hostel after a basic “pilgrim meal” at a local bar and a short but sweet church service followed by the priest’s personal blessing for each of the 10 pilgrims in attendance. I can’t say that the service was all that moving, largely because it was in Spanish, but at least it didn’t drag on and on. Most of the people in this town would want to be home in bed by 9:00 pm, and they were!
The Church of Santa Maria was built in the 12th century and renovated several times, as recently as the 18th century, so there is a real mix of Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Just inside the massive front door is a small statue of St James which is said to be the oldest in existence.
Cesar Borgia, the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, is buried outside the church entrance. This particular Borgia was named Bishop of Pamplona at the age 15! He was the first cardinal in history to resign and he is mentioned favourably in Machiavelli’s The Prince. In 1507 he died a heroic death on a local battlefield, falling to Beaumont’s army during the Battle of Mendavia.
The history of Viana sounds a bit like the history of my hometown where all the old timers had nicknames and many would even sign documents with those names. We had ‘Beanie’ Lehman, ‘Shine’ Davis, ‘Scoop’ Thomas, ‘Dinky’ Watson, ‘Boots’ Wilson, etc. Viana was formed a little earlier, around 1219 when Sancho ‘The Strong’ commissioned a stone wall that was intended to unite eight small villages and help the citizens defend themselves. It didn’t work. Pedro ‘The Cruel’ is one of the many who have invaded Viana over the years. The town had a pilgrim’s hospital by the 13th century and by the 15th century there were four competing hospitals. Apparently blisters and sore shins are nothing new!