Time walked – 4 hours total, with 1 hour wandering around Estella
Total distance walked – 9.75 miles (94.95 miles total)
Weather – Overcast, morning in the low 50’s with humidity, afternoon cloudy, 68 degrees F
Terrain – muddy dirt path, city streets, wide pebble path
Ray was up, packed and ready before me. I had not slept well, but not poorly, in the shared bunk room. Ray had told me that he keeps himself awake until he thinks everyone is asleep so tha his snoring doesn’t keep someone from falling asleep. If his snoring wakes me up, I become concerned that it will wake someone else up, waking myself up further. I then try to get him to turn over, which usually gets him to stop. I will reiterate, however, that I’ve learned the sounds Ray makes may not be considered snoring compared with the other noises going on in the room.
During dinner we had heard thunder and it had rained in the night once again. While more humid, the cooler, overcast days make for excellent hiking weather. Our eighth day of hiking was a scheduled work day, so we only had to walk for an hour before reaching Estella and finding a place to get coffee and good wifi.
The path was muddy from the rain in the night. Estella is a recommended stop in the guidebooks, so since we had stopped prior to reaching Estella, there weren’t other pilgrams on the trail. This was the first morning that we didn’t have anyone in sight in front of us or behind us. It was a little unnerving even though we knew where we were going and that it wasn’t very far. We saw several sets of shoe prints in the mud just before a bridge, which was comforting.
It’s so difficult to judge our distance while walking. Less than three miles to Estella seemed to be taking a long time, when other times five miles passes very quickly. We rounded a corner and a mule tied to a stone building stood guarding the trail. It was an unexpected sight and may be my favorite photo to date.
We entered Estella through an old part of the city. I love the stone buildings and churches, and wondered when the change occurred between the white buildings with red roofs of the Basque country to the stone, medieval buildings of Navarra.
The old town transitioned into the modern and we had to pay attention to cars for the first time since Pamplona. Our focus turned to finding a coffee shop where we could spread out our electronic devices and get some work done. I started to get the guidebook out when we saw a woman walking with a fresh loaf of bread and decided instead to find the panadería, or bakery. We could see the panadería sign in front of us and just before it was the coffee shop. ¡Perfecto!
We ordered coffee and pastries for breakfast and set up our work camp. Our next three hours were not very exciting; paperwork, organizing electronic files, paying bills and more paperwork.
We were off of the scheduled stops I had planned in Panamá. Since we were supposed to stay this evening in Estella, we had made our way a little further ahead. I wanted to get to Villamayor de Monjardin for the night, where the number of beds was far fewer than what we had been experiencing. While waiting for Ray to pack up, I sent a message ahead to an albergue to guarantee that we would have a room.
With my phone in my hand, I thought that I would try a map app to see if I could get us back to the Camino trail. My attempt did not work to find the Camino, but I did recognize the name of a sporting goods store that I had read about. Ray was insisting that I get new inserts for my shoes, and I was looking for some cheap sleeping attire. For convenience, efficiency and to minimize their pack weight, many pilgrams sleep in the clothes that they wear to walk in the next day. Sleeping in nylon, wicking clothing just wasn’t working for me. Even though I wanted to get to our next destination, having a reservation made it possible to head to the Decathlon store.
We spent an hour in Decathlon looking up and down all the aisles. We had not been in any big, modern stores in Spain, but because we live in Panamá, we had not been in a modern store since traveling to the United States eight months prior. I found a cotton t-shirt and jersey capri’s pretty quickly. Ray found the shoe inserts near the front of the store. He pulled the factory insoles out of my shoes for size, revealing a bare spot where they were worn through. After giving me a hard time for not doing this earlier, we found a pair that worked in my shoe. Because he did not want to wait until his insoles got as bad as mine, Ray went ahead and got some for himself as well.
We checked out and headed out the door unsure of how to rejoin the trail. Ray had been looking at a map while waiting on me so he was confident about the direction we needed to go. So far, we’ve had no trouble finding the Camino markers leading The Way of St. James, or the Camino de Santiago. We walked for nearly ten minutes, however, without seeing a marker of any kind. There was some street construction that may have been part of the problem. We did see a church ahead of us, which is often a good sign, so we kept heading toward the church. As a pharmacist was locking the door to the farmacia for afternoon siesta, Ray asked if she could point us in the direction of the Camino. She told him that we were going the right way, we just weren’t there yet, and she pointed toward the church. As soon as we reach the church, the markers became clear again.
The trail turned out of the city and back to a wide stone path. I like the varied scenery of the Camino, but greatly prefer the quiet paths to the paved roads and city streets. Just outside of Estella, we saw a sign for the infamous fountain of wine.
In Bodegas Irache, they’ve not only provided a water fountain for pilgrams, but a wine fountain as well. Ray and I thought it would be a good idea to take my picture pouring the wine since my purple Barney outfit matched the vino tinto. Neither of us drank the wine, but I thought it had a pleasant aroma.
The village of Irache was ancient, yet more vibrant than many of the villages we had traversed. The central church was open, there was a wine museum and a well-kept park. I asked Ray if he wanted to check out the museum, but he was already walking out of town.
For early afternoon, we still had good cloud cover and cool temperatures. Just outside of Irache we passed a vineyard, possibly explaining how they can offer the free wine.
The route markers were distanced out a little further than what we had been experiencing. We reached an intersection where we were given a choice between two paths of a sign similar to a street sign. I read the sign to Ray, and he wanted to know which route was shorter. One was just over a kilometer shorter, but it was not the one where I had made the reservation, so we took off to the right. The picture below is a good indicator of how the way is usually marked when the path appears to give you a choice. The cement markers are found all along the Camino, and the painted yellow arrows often confirm the correct direction.
While I have marveled at the scenery all along our journey, for some reason I was really in love with the next stretch. The path turned and rose steadily and was amazingly beautiful in all directions.
Ray and I walked and walked without a sign of the markers. This was also the first time we walked for so long by ourselves. We could see well in front of us and we’ll behind us, but had not seen another pilgram for over an hour. We stopped to question whether or not we had missed something when my cell phone rang.
Our longest standing business number of now 20 years was transferred to Magic Jack when we moved to Panamá. I have an app on my phone that rings whenever we receive a call. The vast majority of calls are telemarketers, but I was so surprised that my cell phone was ringing when we were trying to decide if we were lost in Spain that I answered it. The caller was looking for Brandon, who runs our other business and has a different number. I told the caller that we were not in the same location, which made Ray laugh. I gave him Brandon’s number and email address and assured him that I would follow up with Brandon. It was starting to sprinkle when I sent Brandon a text to let him know about the call. I texted that we may be lost but would call him once we got settled in for the evening. The seven hour time difference has allowed us to walk during the night in Kansas City and then work in the evenings for us and normal business hours in the States. Brandon sent a text suggesting that we should turn on the GPS or use Google maps. I didn’t think it would work from our deserted path, but it did. We were on the right path, about 45 minutes walking to our destination; plenty of time to get checked in and manage our daily routine.
At the entrance of another village was a gorgeous wall of roses. I stopped to smell them and to snap a photo to remind myself that I want to savor every moment of this experience. This pilgramage is supposed to be one of simplicity, introspection, spiritual reflection or discovery, and more. With the ever increasing popularity resulting from movies, documentaries and social media, our pilgramage has focused on securing beds for the night. Technology has and is changing the Camino de Santiago. It was important to me that we make this trip before some of the Camino succumbs to corporate sponsors.
Now that we could see our route on the map app, I was confident that we were going in the right direction and not very far. There was a long stretch of trail curving with a slight incline in front of us. We could see two faint objects well ahead of us because of their brightly colored backpacks. Although tiny, Villamayor de Monjardin was my favorite villages yet. The mix of old and new was extremely well balanced and it was spotless, with newly planted spring flowers in pots in front of homes. Our albergue was the first of three in the town. The large wooden door was closed but the key was hanging in the lock. I wasn’t sure what to do, but turned the key and pushed the heavy door open. We entered into a hallway of the albergue and turned into the common and kitchen area to check in. The building had been renovated with the very familiar IKEA everything. I had reserved a private double room which turned out to be a little more than a closet with a bunk bed and a modern bathroom. We couldn’t have been happier to see that we had our own shower and toilet.
Once we got settled into the room, we called Brandon to check-in since the wifi at this albergue was better than most. It was good to hear his voice and we talked about what he had been doing and some of the things we’ve seen and done. I was telling him that I thought he and Tracey should seriously consider planning to walk some of the Camino just for the experience when I realized that had lost signal. There are many people who walk parts of the Camino for a few days or a week, and I would have to recommend that to anyone.
We sped through our afternoon routine and wandered out to find a restaurant. Unfortunately the village is too small to support a dining establishment, however, there was an adequate mini-market. Ray and I shopped for sausage, cheese, hummus, bread and two chocolate bars. We went back to the albergue and sat at the shared kitchen table and dined on our feast. It was delicious, and we laughed about how it was going to be one of our favorite meals.