Fourth day of walking — Estella to Los Arcos

The albergue guy tells me that they cut off the email at 10:30 — the rest will have to wait until tomorrow.

We got started at 7:20 a.m. — well ahead of sunrise, but enough light to see the yellow arrows and scallop shells that sign the way west. Blessedly, the morning was clouded over for several hours — enough time for us to do our major climb of the day, about 200 meters (600 feet) up to Villamayor Monjardin. Even with the temperature in the low 70s in the morning, it was muggy and we were sweating within a few minutes.

The first stop, after the first hour’s walking uphill, was at the much-anticipated wine fountain of Irache (photo below), where red wine runs free for peregrinos (18 and older, presumably). But the groundskeeper indicated in a fountain of fast Spanish that whoever manages it was on vacation! We sat for a few minutes, later, to drink our own coffee and eat snacks; then stopped by the Irache camping grounds to check them out. They had all sorts of sports, a huge  lounge with half a dozen billiard tables, all sorts of video games, kids’ riding machines (the kind you plug with a coin and the kid bounces for a few minutes), an inflated “ball room” for kids, and much more. One of the cycling groups that keeps passing us stayed there for the night; they streamed out and up the hill in their bight-colored Spandex.
We followed them up the dirt path (much of what we are walking on is dirt and gravel) through a pine forest and then more fields to Azqueta for coffee and cats. Their sign, painted on a wall outside the city has a cheshire cat-ish feline, and the town square had half a dozen of the small skinny but well groomed cats that we’ve seen elsewhere. They begged for food and attention; then went off when the offerings weren’t entirely satisfactory. As we were walking out of the square, an old man who’d been sitting on a bench commanded us to come with him so that he could stamp our credencials — we’re not in tune with that yet. We followed him into a tiny room, along with a woman from Winnipeg and another peregrino; he inked the stamp, set if firmly on each credencial, and then slowly wrote the date. We left; the other peregrinos stayed behind, and as we strapped on our backpacks at bench outside, we heard him singing for them is a cracked voice — perhaps the national anthem?
We stopped in the village near the top of the mountain, for an early lunch and coffee at a bar with another cat. From there, the path led down the hill and into Los Arcos. The guidebook warned that there were no facilities, no water, nothing but fields and ruins with little shade for six or seven miles. It was correct. We left about noon from Villamayor du Monjardin and reached the outskirts of Los Arcos at 3:20. The first hour wasn’t bad; the sun still wasn’t full out, and there was an occasional breeze. The second hour, up a little hill, down a little hill, a flat stretch or two, up a little hill . . .  stop at every patch of shade to sip water and cool off (I discovered that pouring just a bit of water into the crown of my cotton brimmed hat kept my head cooler — Jim and Anthea observed that it also attracted dozens of flies. I was fine with that — if they were sitting on my hat, they weren’t buzzing in my face and on my arms).
What was interesting? We saw a couple of hawks swooping high above the fields. The vineyards seem to thrive — healthy brilliant green leaves, with thick bunches of small purple grapes hidden beneath them (we had the local red wine in Cirauqui and liked it). Several ruins stood along the way – an old castle at the very top on Mon Jardin — hard to imagine the difficulties of building it up there. They’re all a dark reddish-brown stone, very simple and squared-off in their shapes.
The sun was out, the breezes random, and the temperature in the low 90s. The rest of the hour and twenty minutes into the town were sheer will power, pumped up by the knowledge that if I collapsed, there was no shade for miles, and it would be a while before anyone would be able to come along and help. In this part of Spain, farmers don’t seem to live on their land — there are vast sweeps of wheat fields, vineyards, olive groves, and even small truck farms with not a single building other than the occasional ruined monastery or castle in sight.
The first building we came to at the very edge of Los Arcos (The Arrows — The Arches?) held vending machines and maps of the town with a sign that said, “For the benefit of pilgrims.” We sat in the shade and drank Cokes, unable to move much for a good twenty minutes. Then we pulled to our feet and walked to the first albergue in town, where my backpack had been taken. They had a private room with four bunks; for 35 euros (about $50) we could have it for the three of us — shared baths, no lock on the door, blankets, a clean sheet on the (thin) mattress), and a pillow with case. We took it. Like many places along the Camino (and from what I’ve read, many of the albergues), it’s pieced together out of the very old (the large common area has thick tree trunks for beams and stone walls) and a hodgepodge of the new — decorating thrift store style. The manager who was maybe in his 40s with terrible teeth, a raspy voice, a scruffy ponytail, made me a little peregrino figure out of wire; Anthea made him an origami crane, which he put in a little niche in the office area that was filled with offerings from other pilgrims.
Two nights ago in Cirauqui, the albergue owner seated us at dinner with an Italian woman and a French-Canadian couple. We saw Graziella briefly yesterday, and then found her here this evening, so went to dinner with her at a restaurant in the town plaza. She wanted to sit outside — it had turned windy and cold after the day’s heat, and we put on sweaters, marveling at the quick change in the weather. The church bells began ringing, right overhead, announcing the evening Mass; Graziella pulled me inside to see the Twelfth Century church, St. Mary of the Arches, which like many has been embellished over the years with Gothic, Baroque and whatever else came along that was gilded and ornate. It’s beautiful, and has an inner courtyard with Romanesque/Gothic arches and a rose garden in the middle.
She can converse pretty well with Anthea in Spanish, and we talked with the help of a Spanish dictionary and a fair amount of mime (at which she is excellent).
It was  a long day; 15 1/2 miles from the beginning to the edge of Los Arcos — too long, we agreed, especially in this weather. For tomorrow we will aim for Viana, about twelve miles away. The forecast is for low 80s, with a chance of rain; for the rest of the week, it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 60s (45 degrees at night).
Various thoughts occurred to us along the way — one being that for the Carns family, to drive 450 miles in a day (the approximate distance by road from Pamplona to Santiago) is a pleasant, but not particularly tiring road trip. Another thought that we seemed to share was that the long trek through the fields the second half of the day was not fun, not beneficial to our spiritual or personal growth, and we couldn’t think of a good reason to do it again.
Here are some Camino views from Anthea, who has been blogging as we go along (using her smartphone, which I haven’t mastered at all — I am carrying my netbook, and using that).

Alto de Perdon.

[August 26, 2012– First day of walking] That means “Height of Forgiveness,” and traditionally a pilgrim reaching this height was pardoned, even if she didn’t make it all the way to Santiago. The wrought iron statue of peregrinos here – a recent addition – reads “donde se cruza el camino del viento con el d las estrellas.”

And it is the path of the wind. Above me and stretching off along the hilltops are wind turbines. Their steady thrum contrasts with the higher, faster chirrup of a grasshopper nearby.

I am sitting in the shadow of a stone shrine much older than anything else up here, waiting for my parents to catch up and feeling the arches of my feet relax from the long climb. My decidedly untraditional pedometer app tells me we have walked more than 7 miles already.

Beside the shrine is a cairn. People have written on the stones they left, benedictions and remembrances. Hats and scarves are pinned under the stones. Ribbons are tied to the peregrino sculpture. I have nothing to leave; the stone in my backpack I am saving for Cruz de Ferro, later in the trip. So I kneel before the cairn and kiss my fingers to the stones, then I sit and I write, taking away intangible things since I have nothing tangible to leave.

LAFAYETTE, WE ARE HERE. [August 23 and 24.]

Here being Barcelona! With all the time zone changes, we got here . . . Approx. 36 hours after leaving the house. So since the Camino pilgrimage – and indeed, all pilgrimages – traditionally begins with the first step out your door, I have been on pilgrimage since yesterday.

It is, as Bilbo said, a dangerous business, stepping out your front door, but thus far the worst we’ve had to deal with was non-functioning wifi in Heathrow and the hostel mixing up our reservation such that we have a room with a shared bath rather than a private.

This is my first time in un pais hispanohablante – a Spanish-speaking country – and it is an absolute thrill to be someplace where I can communicate with relative ease. I mean, I’m worried that when I greet people in Spanish they’ll think I’m fluent, but . . . Like, the guy checking us into the hostel was trying to explain that he’d had Mom sign the wrong credit card slip and I was able to act as an interpreter (although much to my amusement, that interaction drew as much on my recent experience running lots of credit card charges as on my ability to say “You charged this already – ya, ya-” “¡Si!”).

Tomorrow, whether I like it or not, we are doing touristy stuff. I do want to see La Sagrada and La Rambla, which I guess is a market-y street, but mostly I find I am itching for the pilgrimage. Traveling and tourism (especially with parents in tow) are complicated. Walking is simple. Point me west towards Santiago and let me walk.

And here are photos from today, Estella to Los Arcos. I haven’t figured out the camera, even yet. I take pictures, I think, and then they never show up.

Uno gatito en Azqueta (a little cat in Azqueta), with Mont Jardin in the background. By Anthea.

Asparagus fields near Los Arcos, with the dirt mounded up around them to keep the stalks white.

The pilgrim’s delight — a tiny speck of shade on the road. The red dirt is typical of Rioja, the region that we’re in; the golden field at the back is wheat stubble; the hills are covered with scrubby trees, some of them Holm Oak, some pine. The path, very typical of what we are walking on, is dirt, pebbles and dust. When wet, it’s a bright reddish tone, and apparently turns into very sticky deep mud. The wheat fields have been cultivated since Roman days — I need to find out how they’re done that while keeping the soil fertile.

Pilgrims dining outside in the plaza at Los Arcos, in front of the church (to the left).

A photo from yesterday, around 9:00 a.m., on the way to Estella. Jim, Anthea and me casting our shadows.

A fig tree, with figs. We’ve seen apple trees (not many), olives, date palms (in Barcelona), and more — it’s very Biblical in some ways.

The tiny raspberries that grow wild along much of the path. When they turn black, they are delicious little bites for morning breakfast, or afternoon dessert.

Woman feeding the ducks in Estella, at the Rio Ega (August 28).

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