Day 6 - Puente de la Reina to Los Arcos

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , Navarra,
Friday, September 7, 2012

Kms Walked Today: two stages 43 kms (21.1k + 21.9k)
Kms Walked in Total: 135.7kms
Kms to Go: 653.7 kms
Blisters: small ones on back of left toe and big one on second finger left foot.
Pains: none.

Nearly one fifth of the Camino done, and it feels as if I have been out for quite a long time even though it was only five days.
I already thought I had this path and its tricks grabbed by the shells, so I decided I would be slightly adventurous with the schedule today and try to get ahead of the masses.

But first, Reflections:

A - "If you wash socks and undies along the way, keep them in a separate plastic bag from the totally clean ones." I washed 3 sets in the Pamplona hotel (handwash...none of this fancy launderette stuff!). The little devils have a way of always getting to the top of the clean pile to be reused before the softer and nicer original ones.

B - "Never follow any other pilgrim unless you already know he is going in the right one knows where they are going most of the time. Its pure luck that so many make it to Santiago!". This relates to a story from today, so I'm using the clever TV advert technique of forcing you to read on if you want to know. So many hours stuck in front of the silly box taught me at least one thing.

Last night I was delighted that the albergue was out of the village (450m), and up a small hill, as walking back the breeze had picked up and it was simply refreshing. A good oxygenated night is what I needed to sleep well now that I could use my nostrils normally without the light flu.

Wrong! We had two little windows in the 12 person room, and when open it was OK, but a Spanish young lady (Isabel I later learnt) kept closing them as she felt cold. The moment she left the room I would open them, but she would soon shut us all up again in the little oven. I gave up and lay down to sweat it out. It was about midnight when a hungarian chap on her side of the room let go his version of "Enola Gay"...boy did that get doors and windows open quickly! Alas it was too late, I had sweat everything I had liquid wise and I had already adapted to the tropical climate.

I never went to the boys scouts when I was younger, too good natured for my way of seeing life (Iron Maiden and AC DC summer camp might have done the trick for me). However, I do seem to enjoy building things with close to nothing. This time I was aiming to build a little textile wall along the open side of the bunk bed to give me, firstly, a bit of privacy, and secondly, create a bit more darkness in my territory.

I'm happy (and boy scoutishly proud) to say that I managed to do quite a good job. I slid the elastic rope with hooks through three t-shirts (through both arms. This made them hang downwards and created a lovely light barrier.

The best part of the story is that this textile work of art allowed me to play some trickery on the lady that kept closing the windows. At 5am, when I was fast asleep, a friend of the girl opened the door and whispered about five times "Isabeeeel, Isabeeel...". I woke up when she replied "Siiii" quite loudly.

The chap left, and to thank her for the wake up call I whispered "ya estamos, nos vamos en cinco minutos" (we are ready, we leave in five minutes". I didn't think I would pull it off, but she jumped out of her bunk bed, started scrambling with all her stuff, picked it all up and rushed out of the room to the corridor! Revenge...better served cold (or the morning after in our oven).

If there is a conclusion I have reached only four days into the Camino, is that by now ninety percent of the walkers have lost whatever respect they had for others.

I realise that I'm walking with a huge group and that everything is overflowing with pilgrims, and that the "I need to get a bed" effect is playing tricks on peoples usual standards. However, I did not expect this experience to become a ramblers version of "Lord of the Rings" or any sort of "Big Brother".

Last night and this morning made me change my strategy towards el Camino. I need to stay as far away from the main bulk as possible. At least until sufficient drop out or stay behind.

I hate to get to serious, or even attempt an analogy of some sort, but there are sufficient elements to give it a shot.

The theory is as follows: The Camino is like Society itself, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and the basic rules of respect start to be bent until they disappear.

A few examples of this simply amazing theory which should get me a Nobel prize (especially if I manage to link it to the benefits of socialism...which I promise I won't).

a - when we all started in St Jean Pied de Port, everyone was tip toeing in and out of the dorms, and moving stuff carefully. At this stage most people are flip flopping loudly, and creating musicals with their plastic bags - that is at any time of the day or night.

b - whispering has been lost across the Pyrenees, and new self-confident, loud (very loud) voices have developed.

c - the gentle walks enjoying the views, and sitting down for a relaxed sandwich, have turned into a life or death race where staying ahead of the rest is the main target. People are talking photographs and immense speed and eating as they walk along.

d - at the start you could see pilgrims preparing their clothes and belongings the evening before, and leaving them on nice piles. Now stuff is mostly lying around the floor randomly, and people get up at 5am, switch their torches on (or even worse) the room lights, and start reconstructing the damage.

e - The first two days I say young people giving up their seats to older ones, or changing to the higher bunk beds if an older or handicapped person needed it. At Puente de la Reina, I saw a limping man in his sixties (in quite a bad state after the walk as he arrived at 4pm with a few hours of sun), having to sleep on the floor next to the washing machines. I also detected a young australian girl with one arm struggling to get on to the top bunk bed.

f - During the first two days it all seemed to be a mix of nationalities, exchanging ideas and hoping for a new world order. Now groups clearly have "nationalised": French, Spanish, Germans, Italians, Irish, Americans, Brasilians, and, small bunches of Swedish chickens (or at least that's how its sounds like to me). There are some nationalities that tend to still mix and match, probably due their reduced numbers and the common language being English. Those are the English, Australians, a small Welsh contingent, New Zealanders, and some East Europeans.

g - People who do not make any effort are the ones who complain the most! A clear example was the girl that in Puente de la Reina went drinking with her friends since she arrived. She came back at closing time at 10pm (which is also "lights off" time). Even though the door was closed, lights were off and there was an acceptable degree of silence, she opened the door and switched the light on. Someone complained and switched it off. She put it back on and said in italian english "I have to do my baaaag".

We also had the Welsh guys (a group of three youngsters) who are always joking and playing around. Its funny until they come back at 11pm drunk and talking loudly. They were also the ones that said that Spain was backward as the waitress refused to serve them dinner in outside. She insisted that pilgrim meals could only be eaten inside in the restaurant, only tapas outside. They tried to convince her with a "but why?" several times, and getting louder each time as if that would translate into Spanish.

My reaction to late night noise and problem: I close my textile wall, put ear plugs in and read until I fall asleep (which tends to be close to midnight). I actually enjoy seeing how people fall to new lows as time goes by...with the hope that they will learn to gain some self respect in the next few weeks (that's not socialism is it?)

Wow! Enough of that analogy stuff...too heavy!

As you will have gathered, Isabel wake up call got me going as well. Everyone started running around in panic as usual to get to the next albergue fast.

I had some coffee when they opened the albergue bar, and ate three "rosquillas" (drier and small version of a doughnut). The rosquillas I bought the afternoon before came in a bag of 20 and by the taste they must have been in the shop for the same number of months. Against my usual habit of eating everything I buy (especially if you have to carry it in a rucksack) I decided they were not worth lugging around. I opened my heart to my fellow pilgrim "Torino Man" and told him he could keep them if he wanted as I was abandoning them...he did, and I hope he just thought they were a local version of a very, very dry doughnut!

I kicked off the first kilometres with my usual early morning enthusiasm, head lamp cutting through the darkness.

Now, this is where the story connects to one of the Reflections above. Leaving Puente de la Reina, there is one Camino sign pointing towards the left along the road. On the road itself there is a huge sign saying Camino de Santiago.

About one hundred metres further down the road was a pilgrim walking happily, and I had about six pilgrims following my steps from close behind.

We continued walking for about ten minutes when the road came to a round about and there was no visible Camino indication (usually a yellow arrow or blue sign). The lot of us accumulated at the round about, and while we mumbled and wondered where to go next, a couple of cyclists whistled to us from the other side of the circle and pointed in their direction. Effectively, there we could see a Camino shell.

When I arrived at the sign I immediately realised that was the cyclist route. I knew it would re-join the Camino at a later stage, but didn't know when or how tough the road could be. However, there is one thing I really cannot do consciously...backtrack when there is an alternative walk. So I continued!

The road went up, and up, and up, and then steeply down. It was a tough climb, but at least I could see all the pilgrims walking with headlamps about one hundred metres below and on the other side of the motorway. I probably added about one kilometre to the usual route and approximately 400 metres climb. All is well that ends well, and I quickly rejoined pilgrims who must have left about 10 minutes after me!

I bumped into several known faces and had a long chat with two French men who did not get a place at the albergue the evening before. They continue walking and told me they had managed to get lost and ended walking on a cycling route...I had to laugh.

I was determined to get to Estella early as it was only 22kms, and keep going another 8kms to Villamayor de Monjardin. Apparently the village was very nice and the are two albergues. My logic was that no one from my group (except the speed maniacs) would make it there for noon, and that no one from the previous day would stay there as it was only 8 kms walk.

I managed my first target by 11am, and leaving the company of three catalonian men that were walking until Leon, kept walking. It was the hottest day yet, with temperatures above 30 degrees celsius, but it was also a day where every 10 minutes I bumped into a water fountain with cold, fresh water. I would stop at each one, drink, and plonk my head under it for a few seconds.

Just outside Estella I arrived at Bodegas Erache who are one of the local wineries. They have a "fountain of wine" at their entrance which pilgrims can drink from for free. I tried the tap but it wasn't working - perhaps the morning pilgrims had absorbed it all! I was actually happy as having wine at 30 degrees and then having to walk 8 kilometres uphill along hills with no shade, was probably not the best idea.

There was a German lady complaining outside about the lack of wine, and that someone needed to do something. I looked at her , shrug my shoulders and said "je ne parle espagnol" (I don't speak Spanish) and walked off.

The next 8 kilometres turned out to be extremely tough, not due to any pains, but because of the heat. There was probably a tree or a shrub every twenty minutes if you were lucky, and only one water fountain in two hours. Not complaining and staying positive I managed to get to Villamayor de Monjardin after one last tough climb.

I was hoping that the town would still be sleepy, and ready for some random walkers wishing to avoid the massed Estella. Alas! The town was packed with people with rucksacks, all with sad expressions which advanced what I was hoping I didn't have to hear..."Both albergues are full. No beds".

Not good. It was 1.30pm, over 30 degrees, I was reasonably tired and did not want to keep walking unless absolutely necessary.

There were about 20 people there in the same situation, which surprised me a bit, especially as there were four american ladies in their late fifties who asked me if I wanted to share a taxi to get to Los Arcos (11kms away). I politely declined, although I actually felt like telling them they were a disgrace to all the pilgrims for mentioning the word "taxi". I was even more angry when I realised that a whole bunch of ladies had arrived that morning from Estella by taxi and blocked half of the albergue. I really do hope they are believers as that will set them back a few years in purgatory!

An italian walker in quite a bad state could not believe it and was begging the dutch albergue manager to allow him to sleep on a mattress on the floor, or a church bench. "No" was the answer...up to three times to make ir biblical.

That was the moment, with sweat drops skiing down my nose and side burns (let's imagine I had those!), that I took the guide book, looked at the picture of the author and said "Bollocks!". All this rubbish about there always been a charitable soul that would help out, and that "the Camino will offer you a solution"...all utter Bollocks. Its become a commercial path, and that's that.

Potentially if I was dying of thirst or broken a leg I could have seen some leverage in that town. And I can't really blame them! When you have Miss Daisy doing the Camino by taxi, and buses propelling japanese tourists all over the place, I guess if you start taking in every tired soul you are going to run out of space for the pilgrims who really need it (age, illness, etc).

I don't particularly find myself in the "needs assistance" bracket of the pilgrims, and that joined with the anger at those american ladies, made me react.

I stood up, took the pose of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind", and with my rucksack in one hand and the guide book in the other shouted to the skies "The Camino can only help you if you help yourself! I swear to God that I will never be without a bed going forward!", then droping on my knees and picking some soil which filtered through my fingers...
(The true story above has been slightly massaged for dramatic effect).

I looked at the guide book and checked the next available accommodation, which was Los Arcos - another 11kms, and potentially no beds available either. So I did what I should have done earlier that day - phone ahead and double check if there were any rooms.

At that stage I was under the wrong impression (thanks guide book) that you could not book ahead in albergues. I phoned six different hostales and pensiones, and even one hotel, but they were all fully booked. It was the sixth one, a private pension which still had beds and offered to book a bed for me. Halleluyah! Saved by the bed! (and apparently there was only 2 left).

With that good news in hand I could have relaxed and waited a couple of hours for the sun to go down. However I didn't trust the reservation one hundred percent so I wanted to get there as soon as possible to get that mattress. I knew it meant 2 hours walking under the strongest sun I have felt in a long time, but I filled the camel pack and pushed on.

It was a gruelling 2 hours with no trees, but I managed to get to Los Arcos...and the bed was there, or should I say the mattress!
The albergue was quite a hippy one, and although most rooms where the typical 12 people bunk beds, the late comers like me were put on the third floor. The reality is that it was quite comfortable lying down there, although a bit hot as it was under the slanted roof. I guess for 8 euros it wasn't a bad deal, and after walking 43 kms I would have slept in a park!

I had dinner in the local square, where an old american chap from Wyoming joined me. He is retired and walking the Camino slowly. He actually sleeps and carries a small oxygen container, so I'm not entirely sure if he will make it, but he was certainly enjoying himself.
I ate a mixed salad which was the only thing I could after the long walk, and hobbled off to bed.

I never knew a woman could snore so loudly! I discovered on - Danish and she was next to me! Luckily she only did it at intervals, which allowed me to falls asleep quite easily.
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