Adventures from the Camino...
After leaving Hemingway timelessly propping up the bar in the Cafe Iruna, we made our way through the streets of Pamplona, deciding against buying bull running outfits, and headed off uphill through the town parks and university campus. At 790 metres above sea level, we arrived at the famous pilgrim sculpture of Alto del Perdon. From here the yellow arrows took us down tracks alongside large open and recently cropped fields. On the way, we passed through a couple of villages to arrive at our hotel, on the outskirts of Puente La Reina, a little before nightfall.
The next day, we walked through Puente La Reina, stopping in at its grand ornate church, where 10 a.m. mass had just finished; yet there was still an opportunity to light a candle at the feet of St James. As our morning's walking progressed, vineyards and olive groves increased in number until we reached the picturesque hilltop village of Cirauqui. In the Bar Iturrizar we enjoyed a excellent nine euro three course pilgrim lunch, which included borage (a vegetable something like celery and pak choi) and potato, washed down with a 14% strength Navarra Tinto. Onward we went, through another couple of villages with neat and joyfully decorated houses, to then reach the medieval town of Estella.
Like true Brits we undertook a tapas bar crawl that night in search of a TV screening the Arsenal v Bayern Munich match; a somewhat vain hope. All bars (including the Irish one) were showing Barcelona making mincemeat of some Russian side.
The next day we marched out of Estella, calling by the wine font of the Bodegas Irache, where a sign invites pilgrims to: 'have a swig of this wine' and to be responsible so that: 'the ones after you enjoy their swing.' We had a little swig/swing, despite the fact that it was mid-morning, and topped up an empty 500 ml water bottle with wine. On we went to Villamayor (the only village en route) for lunch. On arrival we found that its two albergues, shop and restaurant were all firmly closed, with no human beings in sight. We sat down and shared our meagre resources - our little water bottle, now filled with Irache wine, and a couple of tiny cakes taken from our breakfast table. Why is it that us Brits must stubbornly disobey all the signs forbidding the taking of food to go from hotel breakfast tables? Perhaps for such moments as these. The remaining 12K to Los Arcos took us through remote open and extremely scenic country. Los Acros, another quaint medieval town with a grand church, two squares, bars, restaurants and shops provided an opportunity to refuel and sleep.
With 29 K to walk to Logrono, we did not linger the following morning. By 9 a.m. we were on our way marching along a straight endless dirt track, through even wider and more open country. Though no end seemed to be in sight, after just over an hour we found ourselves in Sansol (7K from our starting point). Though we felt we had now really got into our stride, we were suddenly overtaken by a young America man shouting 'Halo!' and 'Buen Camino!' to us as he passed by and almost ran up the hill ahead. At the top he sat on a large stone and we caught him up. A chat with him revealed that he was on a budget, not wasting any time, having walked from St Jean in France in just four days. Complaining of sore feet he began to remove his footwear. I gave him some prophylactic gel but then saw that his feet were already covered in blisters. We left him nursing his feet and carried on to Viana for lunch (more borage and strong Navarra Tinto).
Hopefully our American friend overtook us whilst we were eating and his youthful pain-resistant enthusiasm carried him on to Compostela. As we entered the outskirts of Logrono we passed out of Navarra and into La Rioja. The underpasses on the way into Logrono were festooned with graffiti, various telling us that we were or were not in Spain (Basque country); and that Jesus is alive or that Nietzsche had got it right after all. None the less, there was always a Buen Camino. To celebrate our arrival in La Rioja we ate tapas in the Calle Laurel district, where it is always party time.
The next day (our rest day) we made a trip to a Bodegas, where we enjoyed a two hour trip with wine tasting (for just 10 euros each). The smell of the barrel room was gorgeous - vanilla, leather and much else; all that you get from a bottle of Grand Reserve. Finally we visited the lovely Cathedral of Logrono, which still has daily Mass several times per day. Look out for the little Michelangelo painting (50 cents to illuminate it). Hopefully next year we can spend another few days walking another part of the French Way. Buen Camino!