Fat, unfit and fifty on the Camino de Santiago

Camino AragonÚs - Camino francÚs

through Navarra

Saturday May 14 - Thursday May 19

Izco - Tiebas - Puente La Reina - Villatuerta - Villamayor de Monjardin - Torres del Rio - Logro˝o

It seems some time since the last email and I am resting my feet in Najera, where the internet cafe is still in the same place as when we were digging here. So I┤ve been walking through familiar territory since yesterday. I┤ve been posting back to myself the bits of the Guide to the Camino that I have walked and now have nothing to refer to for names of places, except the stamps in the credencial.

(So details have been added since returning home.)

Saturday 14 May Izco - Tiebas

I think I had reached Izco on 13 May in part 3 and set off from there in fog for Monreal. It was a straightforward easy walk, pleasantly cold and my feet seemed fine to start with. However by Monreal (c. 8 Km) the weather was getting warmer and feet starting to hurt in the usual places, but I didn┤t want to stop for the day after such a short distance and determined to get to the next albergue (mainly because I couldn┤t face another evening with the mad Frenchman Axel. - Have I mentioned him yet - he┤s a rabid ┤democrate┤ and everytime they demanded his ID card in Aragon complained about the fascist police, but was much happier on reaching Navarra, where the hostels didn┤t demand to see passports or ID - some efficient hospitalero had probably copied his ID number onto his credencial, as was suggested to me.) Axel was one of the more memorable characters amongst the pilgrims, but exhausting company as I tried to understand more than one word in five of his rambling political monologues.

Monreal was a pretty town sitting on a hill or promontory guarding the river, which still had the medieval bridge crossing it, though the Camino now winds alongside the river rather than crossing the bridge. I could hear lots of frogs croaking along the river bank and it was a good excuse to rest to try and see them, but they tended to go silent or leap into the river as soon as they thought they were being watched. The camino leads through narrow cobbled streets lined with stone houses through the old town to the church sitting at the top of steep steps above the little square. Before going on I doubled back to the main road where the only bar in the town was situated, serving the passing trade of lorry drivers and travellers en route to Pamplona (though at the time I was entirely unaware I was less than 10 miles from the city).

The church of Abinzano looms out of the fog on the way to MonrealThe church and square at Monreal

However this next stage was a really long tiring walk along narrow muddy slippery or stoney slopes up and down the hill sides, so exhausting it was difficult to appreciate the scenery and all the beautiful mountain flowers covering the slopes.

Yarnoz church and towerLooking across the valley to PamplonaThe castle at Tiebas

I did make it to Tiebas in the end and met up with some of the same pilgrims from the previous days, a Brazillian woman and a German girl, who had both walked the Camino before. We all reached Puente la Reina at the end of next day's walk, though after that we didn't coincide again except that I bumped into the German girl in Leon, where she was going to take the coach to Santiago (as she had walked that section the previous year).

There was just one bar in Tiebas, where we could eat in the evening, but as it also functioned as the social centre for the village, we had to wait till quite late to eat (well normal Spanish time of 9.30 pm, but most places will feed pilgrims at 7 or 8 pm). So we ended up having a late night and as it was so quiet, the shutters closed and nobody snoring we all slept in quite late (7 am as opposed to 5 am).

15 May Tiebas to Puente La Reina

The next day was Whitsunday and as I was reaching the next village of EnÚriz I could hear the bells ringing for mass at 11.30 - I joined them about 10 minutes late, and it was good to be able rest in the cool church. They had a good choir, which I initially had difficulty in locating and was beginning to wonder if it might be recorded, when I realised they were in a gallery above my head at the back of the church. At the end of the service they finished with special prayers and a procession carrying a statue of Christ alongside two cattle ploughing guided by an angel which proceded through the village and back to the church. I think this was a ceremony to bless the crops at the start of th egrowing season to ensure a good harvest.

Madonna and child outside the church of TiebasTiebas selloTiebas church

As the procession left the church the two huge bells were rung and and I realised that they were not attached to ropes, but had counterweights at the top and two men were standing up there pushing them round and round and round to ring them. A Health & Safety Officer's nightmare!

After refreshment in the bar I carried on to the church of Eunate, which is an octagonal structure with beautiful Romanesque carvings and a colonnade around the outside. There were two coachloads of pseudo-pilgrims receiving their 10 mins of religious experience before being herded back onto the coaches. It was much more peaceful once they left - I thought it was a pity that the recorded music quietly playing in the church was New Age type when they should have had Hesperion XXI playing the Cantigas de Santa Maria or the pilgrim hymns of Montserrat, or even some Gregorian chant, all of which would have been of the same age as the church and just as relaxing and more spiritually uplifting.

From here the next village was Obanos where the Camino aragonÚs joins with the main French Camino from Roncesvalles and I was tempted to stop there, when I saw there was an albergue, but was set on Puente La Reina as this was the official end of the Aragon camino. The albergue would have been nicer in Obanos (as I heard later and wasn't crowded), but I┤m glad I went on as I met up with the Finnish couple Jukka and Paula, who had taken a detour to the seaside at San Sebastian, so it was an unexpected surprise as I had assumed them to be way ahead of me by now. They had found out there was some event on in the town, so we went in and found the whole of the main street and Plaza Mayor railed off with huge bars across all the doors and shop fronts. We finally realised you could slip between bars and so we got ourselves on the safeside and waited with the Spaniards milling around. Eventually first one and then a second bull came charging down the street. This was a version of the Pamplona bull run on a local scale, though here the idea seemed to be to chased the cattle up an down the streets with a selection of locals of all ages goading them on - as far as I could work out the idea was to make them angry and dangerous so the men could show off their skills before leaping between the bars. It is not the sort of event tourists could try and join in as it was not at all clear what the object of the exercise was, as oppposed to Pamplona where it is just a case of driving the bulls through the town to the buillring. In the end here we counted about about 6 bulls and cows - there seemed to be no sign of a bullfight so I assume on this occasion they went back to their fields rather tired and cross.

The church of EunateThe interior of the churchLooking through the arcade to the apse

Looking through the door to the arcade outsideDetail of heads around the apse and Eunate selloThe roof of the church showing the asymmetrical construction.

16 May Puente La Reina to Villatuerta

Set out at 8 am taking a light detour round the block to look at some excavations in the centre of Puente, before leaving the town by the old Medieval bridge built in the 11 th century under the auspices oof Queen Munia, wife of Sancho III of Navarra. The track alongside the river looked as though it was covered in snow, but it was in fact the covering of fallen willow catkins. From Puente La Reina it was a long walk up hill and down dale with lots of nasty detours because of construction of the new motorway from Pamplona to Logrono. However there were some nice little hilltop towns, and I stopped at the first village of Maneru for breakfast at 9.50 am. From there continued on to Cirauqui (a Basque name meaning 'nest of vipers) an exquisite walled Medieval town with stone gateways, a colonaded plaza beautiful stone houses, a church with a Romanesque portico, a welcome fuente for replenishing water supplies and a very helpful assistant in the chemists, where I bought some inner soles for my boots, which over the last few days since getting them, has made alot of difference - my feet still get tired, but the numbers of bandaids on blisters are getting progressively fewer.

Sello Puente la ReinaPuente la Reina: pilgrims leaving Medieval bridge of Puente la ReinaThe Roman road leaving Cirauqui

After the village of Cirauqui there was another well preserved stretch of Roman road which must have been carried across the small river below the town on a mini-viaduct, since replaced by a much smaller medieval bridge. The Camino followed this Roman road for at least 4 or 5 Kms and though much of the surface was damaged or missing (or removed by the motorway cutting) I was surprised just how far I could keep picking up bits of the Roman cobbling.

It turned out to be a hot day and at the next Medeival bridge took a rest by the river and cooled my feet in the icy stream before long uphill detour. Another pilgrim followed my example. After I had crossed the motorway, I decided to follow the old disused road into Lorca, rather than follow the more tortuous officially designated route of the Camino. Reached Lorca at 3 pm, refilled the water bottle at the fuente in the square, chatted to an Australian before finding somewhere for a bocadillo.

Sello CirauquiMedieval bridge near Lorca Sello LorcaVillatuerta apsidal building.jpgSello Villatuerta

With all the detours I stopped sooner than intended as I would have liked to have spent the evening in Estella, as there are quite a few churches and other monuments to see. Actually spent the night in Villatuerta, where I arrived about 4 pm. It was one of more mundane villages though there was another medieval bridge here near the hostel (same style, but smaller than P. la R.), a large stone church and a curious little apsidal building which appeared to used as a barn or similar, but I wondered if it had been a little chapel once. So a few things to hold my interest, whilst finding the shop in an attempt (unsuccessful) to find new boot laces.

17 May Villatuerta to Villamayor

As it turned out it was pouring with rain when I set out at 8.15 the next day (my only rainy day till the very last) and decided site seeing wa not on the menu. On reaching Estella an hour later soaking wet I headed for a bar and had an extended breakfast of several coffees and tostada whilst waiting for the rain to abate. Setting off when the rain seemed a bit lighter and leaving a puddle on the bar floor from dripping clothes, I decided this wasn't the time for sightseeing (but hoope I'll get back there when I take the daub from the Cerromoino excavation back to Najera museum eventually). As I wallked through the town one of the churches was open San Pedro de la Rua and so I trecked up the steps to it and realised this was one of the gems of Romanesque architecture in the town with wonderfully carved capitals on all the columns around the cloisters, as well in the church. The other amazing thing on display in the church was an illuminated manuscript of music. I found a priest to talk to, who told me it was 12th or 13th century and a copy of the Gregorian chant for the latin mass - he even sang me a few bars of it and it was just heavenly - one of those uplifting experiences in what may other wise have been a rather grim morning. And when I left the church the rain had virtually stopped.

Not far out of EStella there is the Monasterio de Irache where there are two fuentes - one water and one wine provided by the bodegas of Irache. I drank from both, but kept the wine to a minimum, as its not a good idea to drink to many dehydrating drinks (alcohol, tea, coffee) while walking. Whilst other pilgrims rushed past in some sort of race to the next hostel, I took the time to visit the Monasterio, mainly Renasisance and Barroque which appeared to be undergoing restoration. The rain held off, though there were a lot of stormclouds over the mountains to the north and the track wasn┤t too bad where it passed through oak woodland,though there were some very muddy sections and as it turned into a mudslide I decided to find my own route out onto the roadway.

Sello IracheThe Monasterio and Bodegas, Irache Fuente de los Moros, Villamayor de Montjardin Fuente de los Moros, interior Sello Villamayor

Just before stopping for the night I passed the ┤Fuente de los Moros┤, which is not just the usual small spring but a 13th century building fronted by a double arch with steps down into the cistern at the bottom, which is filled with the spring water, w dripping out of the rock in one corner. This was just outside Villamayor de Montjardin, where I stopped at the first albergue which beckoned, as I didn┤t expect it to have more than one. Although it was early (1 pm), I reckoned the next stretch of 12 kms was going to be too much for me, especially in view of the weather and I needed to dry my things. The hostel was run by a French lady and when I arrived she was talking to a young Frenchwoman who immediately recognised me - we had spoken briefly at the Foz de Lumbier. She wasn┤t a pilgrim just travelling around the area. She had some really delicious walnut cake from the local bakers which she shared with us and had a chat before she left.

The hostel was very basic - rather like the dig accommodation at Fullerton - fortunately I could cope, but some Germans looked a bit aghast and went on to the next one. I discovered there was another better equipped hostel-cum-bar in the village centre, where I got a meal later in the evening, the only place providing sustenance for pilgrims. I took a walk round the village in the early evening hoping to find the bar open to get warmed up, as the hostel was very chilly. The only sustenance available was for the soul in the form of the Romanesque church and its slender Barroque tower.

18 May Villamayor to Torres del Rio

The French hospitalera provided a basic breakfast for the pilgrims and I set off at 8 am. From Villamayor the gravelled farm tracks were good and the day started cool, though it warmed up and turned into fine sunny day. The camino ran between low hills through a valley of rolling fields, mostly cereals interspersed with the odd field of vines, olives and very occasionally asparagus. Many of the fields throughout Navarra were full of red poppies and along the route were many wild flowers, especially the delicate blue flower. I was to discover this was in stark contrast to the fields of Castilla, which had been heavily doused in herbicides to remove all sign of wild flowers. i wish I had taken more photos of the flowers while I had the chance.

I felt I was making better progress and arrived at the next town at 11 am. This was Los Arcos, with a long narrow Calle Mayor lined with houses built of stone on the ground floor, but then narrow Roman-type bricks or for the older ones mud bricks for the upper stories. The modern rebuilds leave the bricks exposed but it was clear the older houses were plastered and patterned to look like stone all the way up the facade. The main square was colonnaded with a large 17th C church forming one side. (I noticed the plain back of the church had been incorporated into the fronton court (a Basque sport). I found a bar for coffee and tortilla (an entirely innappropriate combination to Spaniards).

The Camino between Villamayor and Los ArcosLos ArcosTorres del Rio sello
Sansol Looking from Sansol to Torre de los Rios Torres del Rio sello

It was still too early to stop and I was trying to make my breaks for the night between the main stages in all the guide books to avoid overcrowded hostels. I knew there was a private albergue in Torres del Rio, so headed for that. Not far out of Los Arcos I could see the next village of Sansol looming on a hill on the horizon with its massive stone church and tower dominating it. The tracks were easy going, mostly gravelled farm tracks with few stretches of narrow muddy footpath. On reaching Sansol I was surprised at what a pretty village it was with a surprising number of impressive ┤manorial┤style stone buildings with their coats of arms on the outside. An albergue had sprung up here and I might have been tempted to stay, but there were no shops or bars and I knew the albergue in Torres del Rio had a washing machine. Torres faces Sansol across the river valley and they are less than 1 km apart. I was glad I continued and ignored the first albergues till I found the Albergue Casa Mari I had seen advertised, as it was small, clean and welcoming, with a terraza to sit on during the warm afternoon, whilst all my clothes whizzed round in the machine - a real luxury after days of hand washing.

Ceiling of the Templar churchThe Templar church, Torres del Rio Sunrise from the terraza of the albergue silhouetting the parish church.

At 6.30pm the octagonal (or was it hexagonal) Templar church was opened suppposedly based on the Templar's church in Jerusalem over the tomb of Jesus (I think). This was another beautiful little architectural gemheavily influenced by Islamic architecture, which also attracts coachloads of tourists. I mangaed to have a few quiet minutes in it after all the pilgrims had been in and out and before the busload poured in.

Shepherd's shelterViana selloCasa Felisa, Logrono, sello

19 May Torres del Rio - Logro˝o - Navarrete

I set out early about 7 am having watched the sunrise while I packed my rucksack, as I was expecting the walk to Viana to be quite hard going ('rompepiernas' - legbreaking, as the guide said), as it looked very winding, up hill and down dale from the map. However although it was like this I didn┤t find it as tough as expected and reached Viana by 10 am. I had visited Viana before on one of our days off, while digging at Najera, so didn┤t feel the need to do lots of sightseeing, though it is a pretty town and I did visit the church again (where Cesare Borgia was buried, disinterred, buried under the pavement & finally reinterred again in 1953 in the church), if only to find somewhere to sit and rest in the cool. For some reason I didn┤t find a bar that I fancied and carried on without stopping (except to post off excess weight (used pages of the camino guide, spare socks etc.) home at the Post Office) heading for Logro˝o. There was a little Ermita (chapel) de la Vorgen de las Cuevas a couple of kms outside with a picnic area and water so I rested here in the shade for a bit, before carrying on to Logro˝o. It became increasingly hot, though the occasional breeze brought a little respite and stopped at the Casa Felisa, where figs and fresh water are provided for pilgrims, though Senora Felisa passed on at the age of 92 in 2002.

The final few miles into Logrono had been quite gruelling in the heat and the scenery of motorways and industrial estates left alot to be desired, and I didn't want to stay in the middle of the city with the heat. I reached Logrono at about 1.30.

"I┤ve got 5 mins before the Internet cafe shuts - so briefly I cheated at Logro˝o and took the bus to Navarrete where I stayed last night and then onto Najera this morning (20th May) before I go on to Azofra for the night."

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