Wednesday 5 June 2013

Camino de Santiago: A Week On The Way – Day 6

Thursday 16/5/13 – Puente la Reina to Estella

25.84km / 690m Ascent / 578m Descent

Stork! That'll be good luck and happiness guaranteed then ...
A cool but much brighter morning greeted us today, fresh and invigorating and with much more promise than yesterday’s gloomy rain.

Peregrino in Puente la Reina
As usual, we were underway by 8.15am. With another 16 miles to go today, it was good to be out on the trail so early, and there were plenty of pilgrims about already, although few we immediately recognised.

The bridge in morning sunlight
We made our way along the long narrow “Calle Mayor” crossed the bridge once again, and picked up a lane that soon gave way to a good, stony track edged with flower-filled hedgerows leading off into the countryside.

A surprisingly steep climb warmed us up as we neared the next village (Mañeru). Apart from the first day over the mountains, the Camino is often considered to be a fairly easy undertaking. In general terms it is, as the paths are clear and the infrastructure good, but that belies the fact that the terrain is undulating and the accumulated figures for distance, ascent and descent (for the week: 174.78km with 5,567m of ascent and 5,392m of descent) reveal a slightly different story: an average 15½ miles and a biggish Lake District summit every day.

Darkening clouds over Cirauqui
Beyond Mañeru, an undulating path led through olive groves and vineyards to the hilltop village of Cirauqui, which was all very lovely except for the thickening cloud looming overhead.

Typical waymarker
The route through the village was clearly signed, but complex in a higgledy-piggledy, up and down sort of way. In our experience, navigation along the Camino is pretty straightforward, and there is a huge variety of ways in which the route is waymarked. Some are official, some less so, but in reality you are never far from a scallop shell or a yellow arrow, and you soon get used to spotting them on walls, road signs, posts, trees, rocks or even set into the ground.

Sentinels on the skyline watching over us
The reward for successful navigation, though, was a self-administered stamp for the Pilgrim Passport, bread and coke bought from the nearby shop, and a short break on a handy bench.

Roman bridge at Cirauqui
Beyond the village, we crossed an old Roman bridge and hooked up with Heinrich, a German chap from Dresden we had first met a couple of days previously at the café in Irotz. A careful blend of German, English and Sign Language worked well enough for the half-hour stroll, during which time we passed through more countryside, beneath a main road, past an aqueduct and over the bridge spanning the River Salado. Here we parted company, and headed off up the hill into the village of Lorca.

Flower-filled hedgerow
The stone steps of the church tower were catching a few rays of sunshine, and made an ideal spot for a rest stop. No sooner had we opened our sandwiches than the French couple we had lunched with yesterday arrived.

One of the fascinations about the trail is that you can be on the same schedule as another walker and either bump into them frequently or not see them at all for several days. As everyone is heading west at roughly the same rate, it is perfectly possible to be five minutes behind or ahead of someone you know and to chat with others who have caught up with them, but to never actually see them for yourself.

Living la vida Lorca
Passing through the village, we swerved the busy Albergue and joined the main road for a short distance before taking to the fields once more. The sun was trying it’s best to hold forth, but away to the north dark skies and heavy rain were bearing inexorably down on us. We pushed on quickly towards the next village – Villatuerta – in the hope we could find a bar before the heavens opened. We did, eventually, but not before catching the first showers and being re-directed from the Albergue.

A couple of coffees and a change of clothes later, we were back outside in full waterproofs – and full sunshine! Quite how we managed to elude the deluge we’ll never know, as it looked as though it might rain for a week. But no: barely half an hour later and we were getting stuck into the remaining few kilometres to Estella.

"Good bread, excellent water and wine, meat and fish, brings much happiness"
I'll drink (and eat) to that!
If we’re being completely honest, the outskirts of Estella are not particularly beautiful. The old centre was quite nice, but the rest left a lot to be desired. Our hotel was about a mile off the Camino, so we picked a route through some of the better streets in an effort to make the most of the situation. Most of the buildings would best be described as “interesting” rather than “attractive”, although these very narrow properties were intriguing enough.

Narrow minded outlook
The hotel itself was a match for the town: fairly basic and non-descript, comfortable enough but nothing special. It was about 4.00pm when we checked in, leaving plenty of time before dinner – which didn’t start until 8.30pm! So we took the opportunity for a rest and a shower, phoning home and messing about on the free Wi Fi beforehand.

The most notable aspect of dinner was our inability to correctly identify red wine: a trick of the light, not the palate, I hasten to add – we just assumed the dark looking liquid with the greenish hue in the unlabelled square bottle served with bread was olive oil. Thankfully, we realised our mistake before making fools of ourselves, and it was left to a group of half a dozen lads on a neighbouring table to reinforce the boorish reputation of Brits abroad. Perhaps it is no surprise that the waitress was a bit grumpy with us.

We had a quick walk out afterwards, but turned in as soon as possible as we both felt quite tired. We’d had another good day on the trail, and we’re finding life on the Camino is suiting us very well. We’ve been enjoying the routine, and even the weather hasn’t been able to dampen our enthusiasm.

Having said that, tomorrow’s forecast is for heavy rain …

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