Pilgrim food is not always the greatest, but Pilgrim dining is usually pretty grand. Everyone gathers round a big long communal dining table, and speaks English. English, despite the fact that I’m usually the only native speaker. Not sure exactly how that works, but it works well for me.
The next morning, before the day even got started, I dad to walk back down the big long hill. A feat I had been dreading since walking uphill the night before. Descending, of course, is significantly harder than ascending.
I caught up with Choi Yun Jung the Korean artist I’d bonded with the first day over duk bo ki and rechristened “Sue.” She was using the two trekking pole method to distribute her weight more evenly and offered me one for a steep descent, since I had no sticks and my right knee was still expressing its dislike of the first few days travel.
With that one stick we picked up an extra couple k an hour, moving us from 3-4k/hour to 4-5.
Mid-morning we made a welcome pitstop for tortilla espagnol and cerveza. The proprietor had lived in Korea for a couple years and loved us, lots of free stuff, including a phone call to Korea.
While in little Korea I ran in to the Canadian school teacher again. Her sticks got stolen while we were enjoying our cerveza.
Made it to Estella quite early. Sue was calling it a day. I was ready to try out my new legs and see how far they’d take me.
The fuente de vino – the wine fountain was just a few kilometers ahead – and I was more interested in visiting it towards the end of the day than at the very beginning. (For more details and a webcam go here.)
Also, I chatted with the Puerto Rican Swede I’d dined with the first night in Roncasvalles. He’d had a blister develop under his big toe nail, and that day lost that nail. His Camino had ended.
For the first time I walked without seeing anyone ahead or behind. There were, mercifully, many fuentes in addition to the fuente de vino.
I had a vague notion that I would make the climb to Villamajor de Monjardin that day. It was just past the 30k mark which was a barrier I was looking to cross. I had also read the smallish albergue (25 beds) run by a group of Dutch evangelicals had very good food.
Fortified by the free wine in my water bottle and discouraged by the accommodation along the way, I made the climb.
Those from Kansas City might be able to imagine the Plaza’s tower on a lone mountain amidst verdant valleys. That’s what I was walking towards in the heat of the afternoon sun.
I climbed the mountain and mercifully, finally arrived. The municipal albergue was locked up tight, but that was fine because I wanted to stay with the Dutch evangelicals who cooked good anyway. As I made my way through the central plaza in search of the albergue, I saw a building with a large banner reading “completo.” I didn’t yet know the meaning of this word, but the options running through my head were not promising.
I ducked through the short door into the first small room, where a French couple were laying out mats on the floor. They nearly pushed me out the door saying “completo, completo.” As if I couldn’t read the sign outside but could understand their heavily accented Spanish.
One of the Dutch evangelicals finally presented himself and informed me that they had, in fact, been complete since 11.30 that morning (it was something like 3.30 now). All the albergues in Los Arcos 12k ahead were full, though last he checked there were still some beds in Estella. Also, a couple German guys, now sitting at the bar, were planning to sleep outside. . .
The logical thing to do next is go sit at the bar. The Dutch and the Dane from Puente la Reina were there. Also, Yvu who shared a washing machine with me in Roncasvalles. He was planning to sleep in the grass, and as the night wore on, and more cervezas were ordered it seemed like an ever better idea. Think of the story potential.
We laughed with one woman who had no sleeping bag because it was too heavy. We talked about German television shows that should be imported to the American market. And the Dutch and the Dane described the luxury of the casa rural they had snagged on the either side of the plaza.
Finally, when it came time to go to bed, it was decided that we would not be sleeping in the grass, but in that luxurious casa rural. And it was nice: exposed brick, modern furniture, spacious bathroom, garden. Chances are good it was nicer than even the hospitality the Dutch evangelicals were offering.
Yvu didn’t join us in luxury. He wanted to sleep in the grass. The next day, when I met up with him in Toro del Rio, he said he only lasted a couple hours before he got up and walked through the night.