Time walked – 6 hours, including breaks
Total distance walked for the day – 11.7 miles (85.2 miles total)
Weather – Humid and 60 degrees F, overcast and warm, 70’s
Terrain – stone streets, muddy and rocky path, narrow path with pebbles, rocks, dirt and mud
Puente la Reina was still asleep when we left the albergue just before 8:00 a.m. We walked through the stone street lined with medieval stone buildings. Ray commented that it looked like something out of a Monty Python movie. We found a tiny store open and stopped in for bananas. Ray paid and had grabbed a cookie at the counter. I caught him in the act when snapping a pic of the arch leading us out of town. The man loves his cookies!
It had rained all night and was still overcast when we left Puente la Reina. The view back at the city was stunning. We walked along the city streets that eventually turned into a wide dirt and stone path. The path turned steeply upward revealing that my calf muscles were stiff. The humidity was high as well, and it didn’t take long before I was soaked in sweat. I’ve spent most of my life avoiding sweat, but living in Panamá has taught me that it won’t kill me. There were fewer pilgrams on the path this morning and Ray and I weren’t saying too much. We passed a young couple that we had seen the day before. She was wearing flip-flops, exposing her raw and blistered feet. We asked her how she was doing, and she smiled, saying that it wasn’t unusual for her so she had been prepared for the worst. I had to admire her attitude and perseverance.
On the steep uphill climbs, I’ve learned that even a two minute break to catch my breath helps tremendously. Just like all the mornings thus far, we were avoiding these black snail like creatures all over the trail. I joked with Ray that if he ever ordered a pizza with some unknown black topping, I would not eat a slice. I needed a break, so decided to stop and get a picture of one at the same time. This little guy was only about 3 inches long, but we’ve seen them up to 5 inches and as fat around as a nickel. I started to squat down for the close-up and turned to ask Ray if he had something to show scale. Multi-tasking with a sixteen pound backpack on was not my smartest move. I fell right back on my rear end! Of course the mostly empty trail was now full of pilgrams catching me in the act. Even I was laughing, and I was actually a little proud that my pack had become such a part of me that I didn’t remember it being there.
Once the hill crested, we could see the next little village ahead meaning it was time for our morning coffee. I can’t even begin to describe how motivating it is to keep putting one foot in front of the other in order to reach the coffee. The flip-flop couple was there ahead of us. “She’s upright,” he quipped as I walked through the door, and we all laughed again. Apparently they had passed us when I was sitting on the ground.
After coffee, the trail got rough with large rocks and it was pretty muddy in places from last night’s rain. The blister on the side of my heel was a little larger after yesterday, and it sends a little sting up my leg if I twist my foot to the side. I want to keep my pace up, but at this point I concentrate on keeping my step as flat as possible.
The original plan was to spend the night in Lorca, then walk 5 1/2 miles to Estella on Friday to work. The 8 1/2 miles to Lorca came very quickly so we made an alternate plan. Fourteen mile days have been the norm, so we thought we should try to push all the way to Estella and give us some breathing room in case of a real downpour. It was still overcast and we were not sure when that would change. It made for perfect hiking weather, I must say.
For the most part Ray and I walk together, but occasionally one of us gets in front of the other. Ray is much faster than I am on the technical parts of the hikes, the steep up hills and downhills. I get in front of him when I need to go to the bathroom or when he stops to switch a bandana for his hat. When the trail turned to smoother dirt and pebble, I got ahead of Ray by about twenty feet. I approached a group of Asian peregrinos, ten women and one man. As I got closer I could hear what I thought was chanting, but recognized that one woman was praying while the rest were singing a praise song, all in Spanish. I was passing the man in the group when he folded his hands together, smiled at me and said, “Gracias a Dios,” very quietly. “Sí, gracias a Dios por todo,” I said to him as I swept my hand across the horizon. He raised his eyebrows and we smiled at each other. “Ah, Panamá,” I heard him say after I had passed and he could read the patch on my backpack. I smiled to myself and kept walking.
For the next couple of hours, we passed wheat fields, wheat fields and more wheat fields. I spent most of the time looking down at the path, choosing where to place my feet for each step. At a flat spot I looked up and saw a large stack of hay bales. This may have been the location for shooting another popular scene in the movie, “The Way,” with Martin Sheen. I pointed it out to Ray, who said, “Hello, I’m Jack from Ireland.” Evidently he recognized the location as well.
My feet were getting more and more tired as we walked. We had already passed our plan stop for the night, but I wasn’t sure I could make it to Estella. We reached Villatuerta, just 3 miles before Estella at 1:30. It seemed to early to stop, but a sign advertising an albergue, Casa la Magica, just 300 meters ahead was very enticing. I decided we had to stop to see if they had any available beds. If they didn’t, we had no choice, but if they did, it was a sign from God.
Ray and I continued to follow the yellow arrows and Camino shell path indicators. We walked and walked and walked through Villatuerta. Twice I stopped and asked Ray if he thought we had missed the albergue. The second time I asked, he thought we had and so did I. On to Estella then, I did not want to backtrack.
The mental challenge may be as tough as the physical one. I really didn’t want to go on another 3 miles. We rounded another corner and saw another sign for La Casa Magica. We hadn’t missed it after all, but that had to be the longest 300 meters in history. The Camino path went left, the albergue was in front of us about another 50 feet – 50 feet straight up.
La Casa Magica is a renovated medieval home built over 400 years ago. We walked into the reception room where a woman was being helped. I just needed to know if there were any available beds and it seemed to take an hour for her to check in. Finally, we were told it was our turn and there were beds available. Again we had to leave our shoes in the front room. Because I wanted to leave my socks on, I did not put on my flip-flops. Walking across the ancient stone floor was torture at best. The only other word that comes to mind to describe the pain would be brutal.
Before we went to our room, we were given a tour of the albergue. There was a large covered terrace as well as an uncovered garden with a round swimming pool and a clothesline in the sun. There were hammocks and lounge chairs for relaxing and a kitchenette, large wash sinks and coin laundry. The whole place was charming and enchanting, exuding history.
All beds at La Casa Magica are twin beds, not bunks. Ray and I were the first in our room of six beds, two each in three different alcoves. We chose the far alcove and started the normal routine. The bathroom, like Albergue Jesús y Maria in Pamplona, was also shared with men and women. It was arranged better with more portions and privacy and I didn’t mind it at all. Ray went to take his shower before I was ready. He returned to the bedroom just as I was ready for my shower. He told me that the sinks had hot water, but not the showers. This is not unusual in Panamá, so I told Ray that I had practiced for this. He reminded me that it is warmer in Panamá, but what was I to do?
I got all my toiletries arranged as well as my clothes, separating the sweaty ones from the clean ones. I turned the water on and splashed my face to test the coldness. I then turned the water off and lathered up, alternating the water on to get wet, off to lather up, and off to rinse. It wasn’t a long shower and I used a very conservative amount of water. It made me think of a conversation I had with our home owner in Panamá, Margarita. She and I talked about how refreshing a cool shower can be. I’m not sure this shower lasted long enough to be refreshing.
Ray and I purchased the pilgrams meal for dinner. We had been working near the kitchen where the wifi was good, and the smells were mouth-watering. The main course was a huge dish of vegetarian paella. Not only was it as delicious as it had smelled, but it was very filling and satisfying after burning so many calories.
There were two tables with seven pilgrams each sharing the paella. We sat with a young German man who we had seen sitting at the albergue where Ray had purchased a cola. He said that it was a very restful albergue and that they had also served an amazing dinner. The Dutch couple from our room was also seated with us, as well as as a woman originally from China, now Canada, and another woman from French Canada, who spoke very little English. The Dutch couple were quite interesting as they had biked all over the world and he had walked the Camino more times than he could remember. We all complimented the meal as well as the uniqueness of the albergue. When I commented about the showers being cold but refreshing, I learned that I had not waited long enough for the hot water to reach the shower. Nice…
Obviously it was time for bed. Ray had already left the table, so I excused myself and followed him to bed.