Pamplona – Puente la Reina – Estella – Los Arcos
Dear Amigos, greetings from Los Arcos. We are now Three Masketeers, as friend Billy (Willemijn) joined us in Puente la Reina.
Billy is Dutch and, having walked to Santiago from her home in Holland, became a volunteer in the Pilgrim Office. Billy is also a writer and speaks 6 languages, so it was a natural step for her to become a guide with companies who organise walking holidays, including pilgrimages on the Camino. Since Covid the companies have no customers, so Billy has been exploring the lesser known routes and has joined us for a time. Gemma is now in a “bubble” with two other women, walking happily and sharing suitable accommodation.
Everyone is asking the question “is the Camino safe?” All of us certainly feel safe, but I must emphasise again my view that on Camino, like at home, you are only as safe as you make yourself. Stay distant from others, cleanse your hands frequently and wear a facemask!
I have been very impressed with the preparations made in hostels to keep guests separate. Gemma and her bubble have felt safe finding rooms where they can share at a distance. Billy has already complained in one albergue and refused to stay in another because too many people were packed into one room. This highlights the problem – the huge reduction in pilgrims walking makes it easier to stay safe, but the private albergues are starved of business so when some pilgrims come along the temptation is to be blind to the recommendations and pack them in. I say again, no matter what is offered, it is your responsibility to stay safe.
We’ve been walking through beautiful Navarra but the area has had several “rebrotes” or new outbreaks of the pandemic. On Friday we walked into Pamplona, our first major city. We met a friend who lives there for dinner. It was a great reunion but I was staggered at the way bars and terraces were jam packed with customers. The waiters were wearing the symbolic facemask, but the clients were singing, shouting, hugging and kissing. Just like a normal Friday night in downtown Pamplona. I wondered why people are so blind to the fact that it is our own behaviour which spreads this virus.
It was with some relief when we marched out of town the following morning, through the lovely University campus. Onwards and we were soon at Cizor Menor and then making our way up and up to the Alto de Perdón. The Reverend Long Legs forged ahead, clearly emboldened by having scaled the Pyrenees. I huffed and puffed up to the top to enjoy the magnificent views and the cooling breeze. There were only two other pilgrims there but soon the “bubble” of young people from the previous day arrived in slightly diminished number. They were impressed that the Old Guys had got there first. The descent is difficult and we took our time because the temperature was also rising.
The names of the next villages will be familiar to many reading this: Uterga, Muruzábel and Obanos. However these, and many others, are not as you remember them, or as they would be in another year. At this time they are like ghost towns with bars closed or, if open, terraces empty and lacking the chatter of hundreds of pilgrims. During the day one Italian pilgrim who is walking for a few days stopped to chat.
As for the heat, we are carrying lots of water and, of course, Stephen Keep Me Kool just had to demonstrate the traditional method of cooling down.
Puente la Reina remains as charming as ever and going in through quiet streets and leaving in the morning in silence I realised that we are seeing the Camino Francés in a state that just last year would have been unimaginable. We walked towards the very picturesque town of Cirauqui, the streets of which seem laden with history.
I was sitting in the shade in the main square when an argument got up between two men and a woman. As it got louder and louder I realised the men were protesting about the restrictions the government has imposed to control the spread of the Coronavirus. The latest of these is to ban people from smoking outdoors if they are doing so within two metres of another person. “It’s the limit” said one using very colourful language. “It’s like the dictatorship all over again,” agreed the other. The woman interjected, “why can’t you see that it’s right to stop people blowing smoke in other people’s faces and perhaps spreading the virus?” she asked, and went on “and why are you two bothered anyway, neither of you smoke.” I exited through the arch and they were still arguing as I made my way out of town.
As we went down the path we were followed by three wee girls. We assumed that they were local youngsters perhaps going to a swimming pond in the river. However as the hours wore on, and we made our way through lovely countryside with the hay drying waiting for the bailer, and the sunflowers darkening ready to yield their harvest, our paths crossed a few times. We only met one other pilgrim that day, Geoli (Joel) another Italian who is walking to Sahagún, halfway along the Camino. He hopes to return next year. Just outside Estella we met the three young girls again and I wondered if they were walking 22kms to see their grandparents. There must be buses I thought.
These three youngsters were polite and friendly. Not so some of the locals we passed. Several times my “hola” was ignored. So much so I wondered if local people were becoming apprehensive about “foreign” pilgrims? “Not at all, ” said people in the hostel, “around here they’d be the same with people from Madrid!”
We were very tired. The Mass with Pilgrim Blessing in the Church of San Miguel appears to have been discontinued, so we just had dinner before bed. After breakfast we checked out. We’d had three drinks before dinner the evening before. Stephen The Ever Honest One said to the lady at the desk that he thought we hadn’t paid for those. She went off to enquire and came back with a till receipt. “You may not have paid, but someone did” she replied. It appears the locals still like us.
Stephen (Who Likes Wine) was excited about visiting the wine fountain at Irache, which sits on the route just outside of the town. As we left the outskirts we saw a man and woman ahead. He had a kind of satellite dish sticking out of his rucksack and he was speaking into a recorder. The two were engrossed in what they were doing so we passed on. They caught up with us just as we went uphill to the Bodega of Irache and the gates to the Fountain of Free Wine came into view. Just then the three young girls from the day before staggered out into the road swaying and holding on to each other for all the world like drunks. The man and woman burst out laughing as soon we all did. The children had been lying in wait for their parents. We took the traditional photographs and we all carried on walking at different speeds, the youngsters yet again forging ahead.
As we were having a breather later the Dad, Rafa, arrived along the path. He explained that the Spanish National Association of the Blind have commissioned a new guide to the Camino which not only has directions but also descriptions. The satellite dish is a GPS tracker and he was narrating what he saw. Truly the blind shall see the Camino in the Holy Year and beyond.
As we walked in the afternoon heat towards Los Arcos we remarked to each other how beautiful is this part of the route and how privileged we are, not only to see it, but to see it at this special time. Let’s hope everyone has the opportunity to do the same very soon.
Please continue to send your prayers, hopes, wishes and intentions to: