The Path Less Travelled

Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less travelled by – Robert Frost

Camino Day 6, Friday 11th September. 135 klms.

[An administrative matter. As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m writing this for me, an electronic record a bit like the paper diary/journal I’ve kept on previous journeys. But it’s not complete at the end of each day, because I subsequently remember things, or because I don’t have enough time to get all my thoughts clear. So periodically I’ll go back and update a page. Some readers (I’m working on the assumption that some people are reading it) may miss the updates. Just to let you know that’s what may happen.]

Just outside Estella one has a choice. The “low road” passes through a few towns; the “high road” heads up into the woods, away from the towns. We chose the latter. Most people choose the former, and so the higher path is relatively deserted. It was a great choice. But back to the beginning of the day …

I forgot to put the alarm on last night, and so we “slept in” until a bit after 6:30am. That meant we didn’t end up leaving the hotel until around 8:20am, and by the time we’d walked back into the town proper and then checked out San Pedro cathedral (of course! ), we headed out of Estella around 9am.

First stop was Bodegas Irache, where an age old tradition continues. The winery provides 100 litres/day of red wine from a fountain in the wall, continuing a tradition apparently started by the Benedictine monks (I’ll need to read up on this). They encourage pilgrims to have a sip to strengthen them for the journey ahead. I sense that most people enjoy it for what it is – certainly the people that were nearby at the time we were there didn’t abuse the privilege, although I have read that some do. That said, what a fabulous tradition. We had a small sip each using Janet’s shell as a vessel. I have to say the wine was extremely good, better than much I have sampled with our “pilgrims’ dinners”. It was a great start to today’s walk.
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Only a few hundred metres up from the winery we had to choose the high or the low road. The high has a slightly higher climb, less services (coffees etc), and so less people. It is reputed to be the more scenic. It was a “good” choice. Not saying that the low road would have been a “bad” choice, just different. Certainly the path was deserted. Over the 2+ hours we were on it we saw just 4 other people. One fellow charged past us like a man possessed, never to be seen again. Two German women criss-crossed with us, and a young women from California caught up with us towards the end, near Luquin. On the normal path over that time I’d guess we’d usually see maybe 50 people. The walk was lovely. The first third was on a very narrow track through sometimes quite dense forest. And then it opened our to rolling hills and fields on our right as we climbed towards the 720m crest near Montejurra.
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One of today’s highlights (there were a few) was arriving in the quaint little village if Luquin. Our guidebook set the expectation that the coffee shop wouldn’t be open. Wrong. The coffee shop was the local café, bar, village meeting hall, swimming pool, plus probably some other things, all rolled into one. Only a few pilgrims were there; it was mostly local blokes having a few drinks, and mostly of some mysterious liqueur. Whilst we now try to speak as much as we can in Español, the young woman behind the bar nevertheless had pretty good English. When we asked for a sello (Credencial stamp) we were given two and asked to choose. As it was self-serve in any case; we chose both. And the tortilla con pimiento was excellent.
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Another 6klms further on, by which time the low and high paths had rejoined, we came across highlight #2, Eduardo’s café movil. Plonked in the middle of nowhere he has a caravan serving all sorts of refreshments, permanent shelter from sun and rain, plenty of chairs, and when we were there Beatles music blasting out for his patrons. I sang him a few lines of Hey Jude plus one other. Given that yesterday’s theme was “Channelling John” that seemed particularly relevant.

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I found the last 6 klms into Los Arcos quite easy. The scenery was spectacular, rolling multi-coloured fields highlighted by the mid-afternoon sun as the clouds came and went. I walked along simply enjoying being there, for the first time not feeling overly weary towards the end of the day.
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Wandering into Los Arcos was a real experience. Like so many of the Spanish towns we’ve seen the streets are narrow and windy. And then as we got closer to the centre of town a buzz erupted. The Plaza de Santa María, at the centre of town, was full of peruginos, some showered and refreshed, some just arrived, smelly and with backpacks, like us. There must have been at least a hundred people, sitting around chatting to travelling companions new or old, just enjoying the ambience. The bars and cafés were doing a roaring trade. We spent a lovely couple of hours enjoying a sangria and catching up with Rich and Pat from San Francisco plus a few others. Quite social.
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And then there was the walk to our hotel for the night, about 2klms out of town. Not my most inspired accommodation choice, but adequate.

There’s so much more to tell about today; it’ll have to wait for an update.

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