Puente la Reina to Estella. 22kms
So we left our new favourite Spanish town this morning and headed out, over the famous six-arched bridge towards chalk -pathed scrubland.
One thing I have learnt in these 5 days, is to never trust a guidebook when it tells you that the walk will be flat. There seems to be no such thing as a day on the complete level on the Camino, just some days with slightly fewer ups and downs. I suppose that is also true of life.
So on this apparently flat walking day, it took about 15 minutes before we were climbing an almost vertical slope, scattered with pilgrims in various stages of collapse. At least with every summit scaled, we can add another sense of small-scale triumph to our days.
And no two days are ever the same – each view different, constantly changing landscapes different companions
Today we walked across barren scrubland, through perfectly aligned vineyards, through ancient cobbled towns, along narrow blackberry- edged paths and past trees with such perfect green points that it was easy to believe they had been painted onto the blue-skied backdrop.
We climbed steps cut into the ground, so high that you need two hands to pull yourself up onto them, slid down hills, on ground baked hard by a relentless sun, scrambled over high arched bridges and arrived in Estella. Yet despite the polarised buildings that seem to reside in different centuries , the Camino, the shells, the pilgrims form part of its very essence.
Right at the beginning of today’s walk, just past 8 am, we met a group of Irish Camino goers who we have bumped into often over the last few days. They were sitting around a table outside a cafe/hostel in one of the small, picturesque villages we were passing through, eating breakfast. As always their meal was accompanied by a sense of friendliness and laughter.
“You got here early,” I say ” what time did you leave?”
“About 6.45,” says one of them.
At 8 am the sun is already hurling its relentless warmth towards the ground.
“Very wise,” I say ” weren’t the last few kilometres yesterday a killer? No shade and SO hot.”
“‘It was so bad,” says one of them,” that we had to drink a bottle of gin as soon as we arrived.” She pauses and looks unenthusiastically at her half eaten piece of toast. “I don’t think it really helped.though.”
We left them contemplating the likelihood of being able to stand up and walk again.
I am writing this just before midnight. Outside the temperature in this strange city of Estella has only just dropped below 30 degrees. The fan in our basic hotel bedroom is blowing the once- white curtains. And beside me Ninesh sleeps, the sleep of the exhausted pilgrim, deep and dreamless.
The odd thing about Estella is that walking towards it, you can’t see it, not even when you are 500 metres away. Until, suddenly, rounding a rocky outcrop in the river, it is there in front of you.
A medieval city built on either side of the river, joined by steeply sided bridges. a whole concrete, industrialised centre built as an add on, snaking up the hill behind it.
But tonight, any hint of modernism was forgotten at the heart of the old town. Just as it is an almost invisible city, so the inhabitants are able to make the newer parts of their home disappear when necessary. As we wandered the cobbled streets this evening, the sun warm on our backs, we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with knights in chainmail, princesses in long flowing dresses, peasants wearing sack-like robes and a gold crowned king and queen riding white and black steeds towards the main square. If this was strange, it seemed to be only us uninformed travellers who thought so. The king and queen arrived at their thrones accompanied by bagpipes and drums and graciously allowed the peasants to entertain them with endless, complicated dances.
“It must have been very boring being a medieval king or queen,”I say as we escape to a bar on the banks of the river for drinks and tapas. But it wasn’t long before we were joined by the medieval folk, royalty and peasants eating deep fried calamari are and freshly cooked chicken nuggets while checking their not-quite-medieval phones.
When we left to wander back to our room through air warm as soup, the laughter followed us, the strangeness of walking next to medieval lives already forgotten. Because it is easy to believe that the Camino has been trodden by peasants and kings. And perhaps, if an ancient path meanders straight through your city, it is not surprising that the ancient and modern, the old and the new, the yesterdays and tomorrows should be so interchangeable and so completely intertwined.
The unbelievable mellows quickly into the believable, disbelief constantly suspended.
So don’t be surprised if you should ever walk the early morning streets of Estrella and find that you are breakfasting with a medieval princess while her pure white steed grazes gently on the succulent grass of the riverbank.
Quote of the day
Don’t be fooled by any guidebook that doesn’t mention at least one hill.
Make sure that you know which side the sun is on as you walk and put your water on the other side. Your ruck sack will shade it and stop it from getting too warm.
Bring a small folding bag to carry with you for your evening’s entertainment.