Ahhhh. The rest day helped tremendously and we both feel relatively fresh today. Sally’s blisters are sore but wrapped. They rebel their return to the hiking shoes. However, our spirits are good and we walk forth ready for the day and what it holds. The goal: Los Arcos, just over 13 miles away.
As is normally the case, our departure begins with a climb out of the town. We leave Estella behind and move toward our first point of interest: the Irache Monastery and its famous wine font – a spot where pilgrims can fill their water bottles or dispense a taste of wine before they begin their trek. We stop at a small blacksmith shop along the way – real craftsmen with many interesting creations. The smith kindly stamps our Credencials or Pilgrim’s Passports. The Credencial is a make of the peregrino and is part of demonstrating completion of the Camino to earn the Compostela (certificate of completion) in Santiago. To earn it, one must complete the last 100 km to Santiago. I suppose 800km is overkill but the Compostella wasn’t the point. Many places offer stamps to the passport along the Way. We generally get a stamp from the place we stay, the church’s we visit, and when we make purchases. Some of the sellos are quite well-designed and each entry is dated.
As move along today, something is different. To this point, we’ve seen other peregrinos but in small groups and intermittently. Today, we encounter large groups traveling light and fast. After Irache, we find ourselves among many. The monastery seems to be a popular departure point for segment to segment pilgrims and many are quite festive. I fight back the urge to be annoyed, with moderate success. This is my pilgrimage, how dare you pollute it? My tendency toward that self-centric view of the Way is of course narrow and limiting. I have not quite realized it at this point on the trail but I will come to appreciate the broad stretch of humanity we encounter along the way. The large group of Spanish walkers now encircling us seems joyful and though they pay little attention to we slow movers, they are quite happy with each other’s company.
We will encounter them throughout the day as well as many others making their way to Los Arcos. Today is Friday and we are heading into a Holiday week-end in Spain; we’ve come to find that Spain celebrates Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in what they call their Fiesta National de Espana (Spanish National Holiday). Other interesting encounters today:
- A very young couple who are clearly arguing. At one point, we see him walk off up toward a highway. Standing there in what looks like pouting, he waits as she follows him. Apparently, the conversation does not go well as she walks off, leaving him there. We later see her sitting on the side of the path, texting. They are walking separately for the remainder of the day. Have no fear, I see them together again the following morning. I smile as I consider the petty things we are able to argue about – I have no idea why they were fighting but I’m sure it was about something incredibly small.
- A group of Americans pass us along the way. I hear the comforting familiarity of English behind us and five guys pass by quickly. Quick and efficient: where you from? Indiana? I’ve been to St. Elmo’s. Then they’re gone. I notice they have no packs. We’ll see them again.
- We sit at lunch with a group of Spanish guys who are trying to make friends with a young Spanish girl. In the course of about 40 minutes, we manage to have no conversation with them though we are literally sitting in the middle of a table together. It is fascinating to listen to them as I am able to pick out pieces of the conversation. They are making recommendations for lodging and food at upcoming towns. She is appreciating their attention and we are completely invisible to them. It is fine with us as we have our shoes and socks off, airing them out on this break.
Today is smooth. We make good time and feel pretty good. Thirteen miles feels relatively light today. Sally switches to her Birkenstock sandals and feels immediate relief on her blisters. Relatively flat terrain makes the Birks doable. There are fewer villages along the way today but we do come a across a food stand in the middle of a turn in the path. One of our greatest daily joys has become a Coca-Cola about midway on our journey. Coke appears to be the national soda of Spain, which helps endear this country to us. Thank you to our American predecessors who have convinced service establishments here that Coke needs to be served in a glass with ice cubes. We have yet to encounter a warm Coke and gratefully receive its healing refreshment daily.
The cloudy, comfortable morning gives way to sun and heat in the afternoon. The countryside is arid and the trail dusty. The flies are not the pestilence they were outside of Pamplona but they remain aggressive and persistent when they appear. The steady stream of pilgrims makes potty breaks difficult but the afternoon remains pleasant and unhurried. We book a room in Los Arcos at Pension Los Arcos – it always make me a bit more comfortable having our sleeping arrangement situated.
We arrive in Los Arcos with no fanfare. It feels like we are the last to arrive – I’m pretty sure every other human being along the path today has passed us. Of course, that’s not the case but it is very quiet when we arrive. Afternoon Siestas make the towns look dead. Jose at pension San Arcos is quite affable, speaks English, and makes a dinner recommendation. We showered and headed to a bar for our afternoon beer, another worthy tradition. We found a San Miguel lager and enjoyed the fading day. It is curious to note the preponderance of smokers among the local populations. Outside tables and chairs abound but are only used by us and the smokers. The smoke does little to dampen our spirits and the light breeze keeps our lungs clear.
Mass tonight at the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Asunción, the most ornate church I have ever see. Not only is it massive, but every square inch of its interior is covered some some kind of decoration. We explore the church before Mass and have the opportunity enjoy our first Spanish Rosary. We are above to follow along with Mass though I am sad that we were unable to understand the Homily. The priest seemed thoughtful and passionate giving particular attention to his peregrino guests. After Mass, he invited us up for a blessing and approximately 40 pilgrims walked up. He provided blessings in multiple languages and gave us each a prayer card with the Pilgrim’s Prayer on it.
Afterward, we enjoyed a traditional Spanish dinner (our first since they don’t start dinner until after 8pm nightly). Fried chicken fillets – pechugas de pollo, croquettes, and French fries – a staple that seems to be served with every meal. The server pushed me on my Spanish and was proud to bring a wine produced in Navarra. The meal portion was perfect and allowed me a bit of room for a delicious custard – Natilla. Now getting tired, we headed back to the pension to call it a day. A good day.
St Mary of the Ascension is the most amazing Church Ive ever seen, I’ll bet it is breathtaking in person.