Descending into Spain down the Pyrenees was a test of one’s knees. Many pilgrims took to zig-zagging down the impossibly steep path that lead to Roncesvalles. This didn’t make sense to me at all. Why on earth would you add all those extra kilometers onto your journey to protect your knees? I was preoccupied with meeting up with the Spaniards because of a trip I’d done to Peru to walk the Inca Trail. There I’d learned about how the dreadful Spanish invaders had come into Peru and completely wiped out the Incas and their culture whilst plundering their riches and ravishing their women. I was feeling quite guilty as here I was about to be fraternizing with the enemy! With all due respect to the Incas, I found the modern day Spaniards nothing like their marauding ancestors as they proved to be extremely friendly, helpful and hospitable to pilgrims.
It was about four nights into our Camino, after we’d settled down for the night in a large albergue in Puenta la Reina, that I was woken up by the sound of a fleet of bulldozers that had obviously pulled in to demolish the building next door. In my half-dream state it took me a minute to realize that it wasn’t bulldozers at all but two snorers in the cubicle next to ours. I’d forgotten about this scourge of the Camino – the snorer – and hastily fumbled in the dark for my earplugs. These tiny foam plugs are a godsend and should receive priority on one’s packing list. I met pilgrims who walked on to the next village to avoid staying in the same albergue as a known snorer. In Santo Domingo they had a separate room for “bad snorers” but it remained empty as people were too embarrassed to own up to this awful affliction.
I heard some gruesome stories about snorers. In one incident a lady was so frustrated by the snorer in the bed next to hers that she picked up her alpine walking stick and prodded him hard in the ribs. Unfortunately the rubber tip had come off her stick and she apparently poked a hole in his side and drew blood! That sounds a bit vicious and not at all becoming of a pilgrim on a mission to prove her Godliness! Lead me not into temptation and all that…
Outside Estella we followed the pilgrim tradition of stopping off at the wine fountain to slake our thirst with free wine courtesy of the Bodegas Irache. It’s quite a novelty having a choice of water or wine at a fountain, although, not wanting to sound ungrateful for such generosity, the wine tasted like somehing that a hobo would drink after its been siphoned through half a loaf of bread! Admittedly it probably would have tasted better if we’d gracefully only sipped from a scallop shell instead of filling up my water bottle with the stuff. I felt quite ashamed when someone told me that they had a live web cam streaming across from the fountain. Our greed will probably come back to haunt us when we are named and shamed on YouTube some day! So here you are, you saw it first…
The beautiful winelands and olive groves of the Navarra region were a delight to walk through as we drew closer to Los Arcos. The rich vines were bedecked with enticing sweet grapes that hung like jewelry, just waiting to be picked. We stopped often to feast on these fruits, and likewise to pick ripe figs off roadside trees. We could see on each tree how tall the pilgrims were, because that’s where the ripe fruit lay just tantalizingly out of reach.
There are many stories of miracles along the Camino, but I guess one of the most famous has to be the one of a young lad who was falsely accused of stealing a silver goblet and hanged for his sins. He apparently survived the hanging with the intervention of Santo Domingo and when this news was relayed to the local Sheriff, who was eating his dinner at the time, the Sheriff said that the boy was no more alive than the roasted rooster on his plate. With that, the fowl jumped off his plate and crowed. The young boy was immediately cut down from the gallows and pardoned. The town of Santo Domingo has venerated roosters ever since.
At about this time of my journey, my ankle was really sore and bothering me and I have to admit that I sent quite a few silent requests to Santo Domingo to help me out too. Either his line was engaged or he didn’t think I merited relief at the time, no doubt because of my excesses at the wine fountain, but no miracles were forthcoming. I was a bit disheartened, I must say. I wasn’t asking to be saved from the gallows, for roosters to be resurrected or anything quite that spectacular. I figured my sprained ankle would be a cinch for him (being a saint) as it was more in line with the capabilities of a tele-evangelist, but alas it was not to be and I hobbled bravely onward.
Wherever you are on the Camino Frances you are never more than a few kilometers away from a church. It may be just a ruin, but there is evidence everywhere of the role that the church played in the lives of rural Spaniards through the centuries. Sadly most of the churches were kept locked, so couldn’t be visited, but those that were open mostly smelt musty and unused. Probably a sign of the dwindling population in the medieval villages and the move away from daily worship by the locals. I reckon that antique dealers could make a fortune, and at the same time solve the Eurozone financial crisis, just by buying up all Spain’s beautiful idle old church bells. There must be a market for them somewhere.
Join me next week as my journey takes me beyond Burgos to the loney Meseta – the high plains of Spain.