Tuesday 11 June 2013

Camino de Santiago: A Week On The Way – Day 7

Friday 17/5/13 – Estella to Los Arcos

23.71km / 571m Ascent / 612m Descent

Another early morning start on the trail, this time accompanied by a dampening drizzle from the beginning. We rejoined the Camino and immediately fell in with a large group on a guided trip with coach support and a couple we recognised from the bar in Villatuerta.

After a few twists and turns, we’d left the town behind – which was no real loss, if we’re being honest – but were finding it difficult to shake off the group, which for some reason proved rather annoying. We were later informed that there were over fifty in this group, so no wonder we couldn’t seem to get rid of them!

Before long, though, we’d reached the Bodega at Irache, home to an unusual feature – a wine fountain! The inscription encourages pilgrims to drink a glass to fortify themselves for the long journey ahead. I could just imagine the carnage this might cause back home, strewn around each morning with a detritus of overly “fortified” winos and binge-drinkers – a very unappealing thought, but probably accurate.

Unnervingly for so early in the morning, the fountain was practically empty, and the tiny drop we managed to squeeze from it was rather unpalatable. But we were later assured by those who passed through early doors that it was in full flow at the time. They’re a thirsty lot, these pilgrims …

By now the drizzle had also fortified itself into a steady rain. We battened down the hatches, and trundled off again. The route threaded its way via woodland paths and field tracks through another string of small villages – Azqueta, Villamayor, Los Arcos – names that sound more like the midfield of a La Liga side than the route of a world-famous long distance path.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bunch of stationary pilgrims in possession of a good thirst must be in want of a bar. This proved to be the case in Azqueta, where the little café was doing a roaring trade thanks to a let-up in the rain, and we were horribly forced to consume coffee and chocolate crêpes.

Looking back to Azqueta
Just as we were setting off again, we bumped into Denise and walked together for the next few kilometres, catching up on each other’s news. Beyond the next village, Villamayor de Monjardin, began a stretch that passed virtually no signs of habitation until reaching Los Arcos some twelve kilometres later. Instead, the route wends its way through an undulating countryside of vineyards, crops and wooded hillsides. Occasionally, when we veered close to the main road, our passage was cheered on by the wail of a truck siren, but otherwise this proved to be a peaceful few miles.

Undulating countryside
Eventually, the clock ticked round to midday, and we began to look out for a lunch stop. And who should we run into? Our regular lunchtime companions, of course – the French couple. Communication presented no problems: amused surprise is pretty much the same in any language. We took our break a little further on, and were soon joined by Jo who was running a few minutes behind Denise.

"I want it said of me by those who knew me best,
that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower
where I thought a flower would grow" (Abraham Lincoln)

At a junction of paths, we caught up with Hereford Girl and friends. Atop the concrete waymarker was a pair of boots and a note inviting anyone who was in need to use them in an emergency. Nobody took them up on the offer.

The ripening harvest
Leaving the others behind, we crested a low hill and there was Los Arcos in front of us. We briefly crossed paths with an Irish couple who were carrying on to Torres del Rio, but it was drizzling again, and we had done our stint for the day, so were happy to go in search of our digs instead.

Calle Mayor
We followed the narrow street into town. On either side, the doorways were barricaded against … something. It could have been floods or it could have been bulls – we never did find out. Chances are, though, it wasn’t this fellow.

Alarm clock in Los Arcos
By the time we’d dropped our stuff at the hotel, the sun was out again. So we popped back out to the main square for a drink, where many of today's familiar faces had the same idea (including Heinrich, who we had last seen the day before).

The hotel was simple but nice, as was the dinner. In the main, we seemed to be sharing the hotel with French groups: on nearby tables were the group of six we had met a few times through the week, a foursome we had seen once or twice, and a couple who had walked all the way from Le Puy en Velay in central France, and who were 35 days on the road so far.

The heavy rain seemed to burn itself out over dinner, so we went out for a quick stroll. It seemed as though the whole town was out celebrating something or other. We didn't really find out what, but a group of kids being chased by another lad pushing a stuffed half a bull on wheels might have been a clue. Maybe bull running was coming to town: perhaps it was just Friday night high spirits, Los Arcos style. Who knows?

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