I’m an Angel Because I Have Duct Tape – Day 10 – Los Arcos to Viana

Usually, the rain has the decency to wait until I have been on the road a few minutes before starting the daily downpour but today it begins before I wake up. 

Yuck.

Trudging through the mud, I wonder for a few moments if my legs are getting stronger because the load on my pack seems normal and my strides are more certain. But the wind starts blowing against me and I begin the daily struggle to make progress on the muddy track.

The Camino never goes around a mountain it can go over. Up and down, sliding down rocky hills, always wet. Repeat, repeat.

Then, up ahead, I see a young man on the side of the road sitting on a rock. As I get closer, I see he is wrapping thin athletic tape around his hiking pole. 

Are you OK? Do you need something? 

Usually the answer is that there is no problem, someone is just adjusting their poncho or tying their shoelaces.

This time, the young man looks at me and says yes, he is having a problem. His hiking pole has stopped telescoping and he can’t use it anymore.

Since you, dear reader, have probably never used a hiking pole, let me give you a short course on the virtues of hiking poles.

They saved my Camino more times than I can count in the first week alone. In Germany, you see them  used  mainly by old people, striding confidently along in a public park. Or on a public trail. occasionally on the sidewalk. But the important phrase here is, “old people.”

Therefore, most young people tend to shy away from these simple sticks (or high-speed high-tech sticks).

They soon learn that not using hiking poles can be a big mistake.

Maximilian, a strapping young man ready to enter the Academy, found out that using poles would reduce the intense pain in his knees caused by going down the endless and slippery paths on the Camino. He was lucky – his knees were recovering because he bought poles shortly after feeling the never-ending ache in his knees.

Now, one of his poles had died on him, too early, and he was trying desperately to give it some new life until he could replace it in the next town.

In the last minute preparation for my Camino, DH had wrapped a length of duct tape around a golf pencil and we had added it to my pack. Now, like my Voltaren, it would be called to serve.

Using my most used accessory, the little baby fingernail scissors, we carefully wrap and cut a length of duct tape which repairs his hiking pole.

He calls me his Camino Angel.

Thank you, DH.

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I Find the Fountain of Wine  – Day 9 – Estella to Los Arcos

Since I am in a hotel, I do not have to be out the door by 0800. I can stay late. 

But a voice woke me up.

” Get up! Let’s go! I have something wonderful for you!”

My clock said it was 0615 and my alarm was set for 0715.

Nope. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

“No! Get up! The sun is out. It is dry now. Let’s go.”

When the Voice calls you, it will not be quieted. So I got up, got packed, and had coffee at the same cafe one last time. The clouds were very threatening and the wind was cold and strong. 

The wine fountain would be very welcoming.

The region of Irache is very proud of its wine and offers a special treat for peregrinos – the wine fountain! 

There are two spigots – one wine, one water – coming from the wall of the bodega, which is the wine cellar. Since this was the main wine cooperative for the region, the wine cellar was huge.  If you want water, go for it, but for true indulgence, the wine fountain is for you. On the side of the city wine center, right on the Camino, pilgrims may pour themselves a glass of wine to quench their thirst.

And, of course, pose in all kind of silly poses. 

Was the wine good? Who knows! It was 0845! But it was free, it was flowing, and everyone there suddenly became in a party mood. 

I dumped my water from my bottle, tried a sample, then filled the bottle with a bit of wine and alot of water. I packed and continued on the Camino. 

A Lovely, Dry, Day – Day 8 – Estella

Everything about this day in the little town of Estella was nice. 

I woke at about 8 a.m. and found the hospitaleria sending people on their way and talking to her friend, who was taking her child to school. I asked where the washing machine was and her friend excitedly began to talk to me. She ran a laundry and would be happy to do my laundry for me. I thought about the pile of muddy, dirty clothes on the floor and realized that if she charged me $100, it would still be worth it, and soon had one less thing to worry about.

I found the post office and mailed some items home which I found were not needed – rain pants, a plate, a hiking skirt, some cord.

I found a place to get a SIM card for my phone. I found a cash machine. 

I returned to yesterday’s cafe and had a morning cup of coffee and a croissant.

I am noticing subtle (and not so subtle) differences between my North American life and this wonderful European lifestyle. Even the tiniest, medieval, cobblestoned town has a public library with wi-fi for the students. The library in Estrella is quiet, tranquil, and well planned.

On the way to the library, I had to go through a narrow street where an ambulance was blocking traffic because someone needed help. I stood and watched for a while, observing how the local services handled an emergency (quite well, by the way).

After a few minutes, I observed something more.

The street was narrow, as I said before, and people were shopping, pushing strollers, moving to work, etc. Many simply walked around the ambulance and the EMT’s allowed people to move as needed. They did not block the sidewalk or try to keep people out of their way. 

Of course, people did keep out of their way. People understood and felt sympathy. Many pedestrians did stand around and watch the scene. But those who were watching were talking to each other. 

No one pulled out a cell phone and took pictures.

This struck me as different. I think people in the U.S. would transport their friends to the scene through the magic of technology. And they probably would not talk to other observers. 

Here, no one was taking photos or videos. But all who were talking were talking to their neighbor. 

I popped into a free art exhibit in the old castle. My laundry was returned clean, fresh, and folded (sadly, this condition would last exactly one day). 

I had a “pilgrim menu” of green vegetables which had had the h*ll cooked out of them until they resembled soup more than fresh vegs, a delicious half of a roasted chicken, french fries (standard for pilgrim menus), some dessert, and an entire bottle of wine for myself. I asked the waiter if I could take the rest of the bottle back to my hotel and, with a bit of reluctance but then giving in, he said O.K.

It had been a good day. I only hoped I could figure out how to manage my blisters because I was sure the next day would be another rainy one.

Fred and Ethel Make Me Stop – Day 7 – Estella

The rain in Maneru reminded me of the Panama during the rainy season.

Maneru is a little town on the side of the hill between Puenta de la Reina and Estella. Truly on the side of a hill. The roads into and through the town go steeply up and down.

It was noon and I was trapped in town. The rain racing down the street was rushing swiftly past me. Items that had been left outside were gone in a flash, to be found a kilometer down the hill in the mud. I had taken refuge under an old stone arch leading out of town but the water was rising in the narrow v-shaped street as the rain increased.

I edged closer and closer to the wall of the arch, hoping the rain would diminish before it reached my boots. My boots were already covered in mud.

My left foot is Fred. My right, Ethel. They are not happy.

They are tired and wet and blistered. They want a massage.

I decided there and then that Estella, the next town, would be a two day stop. I needed to dry out. I needed dry clothes. I needed a good night’s sleep.

I had 18 kilometers to go and painfully made my way on the Camino as soon as the rain slowed. 

Finally, I made my way through the cars and buildings to the plaza of the town

I asked a resident where the tourist office was.

“The is no tourist office here. You have to go into Estella, about 5 kilometers from here,” she said.

My face did not betray my feeling as I faced the reality that this charming town was not Estella. I still had 5 kilometers to go.

I did get to Estella, a very pretty town, in time to find the tourist office closed for siesta for the next two hours.  After a long, slow, cafe con leche, I returned to the tourist office and they found a perfect pension for me.

The owner saw my bedraggled appearance, handed me some keys, and told me to go upstairs and go to sleep. No register? No signing anything? Nope, she told me to go to bed. She made a point to tell me that I could take the elevator up the flight of stairs to my room. I did.

I had a double for the price of a single, with my own bathroom. I took a shower, my dirty clothes piled in a nasty heap on the floor. It was 5 p.m. and I threw some lovely warm blankets over myself and took a nap.

I woke six hours later at 2 a.m. I turned off the lights and fell back into a deep sleep.