Date: Sunday 6th October 2013
Miles walked: 763
Miles left: 237
It’s not quite autumn yet. Spain stays warmer a little longer than England and the greenery clings later.
Late afternoon sun – Atapuerca
The leaves are turning and some trees deal with the colder nights better than others. Some still sport a full cloak, others are changing colour and some are losing their foliage. Chestnuts litter the trail as well as almonds and walnuts. I nibble on scarlet rose hips as wild fennel wafts up from the Camino’s edge. It’s delicious picking and natures larder is bursting.
Rain looming on a road walk
The Rioja region is renowned for its wines and El Camino regularly passes through vineyards. Parallel lines of vines stretch away over the hill tops, they cling onto a rusty red soil as vibrant green lines occasionally lift in the breeze to reveal apple green or black grapes hiding there. Sometimes I glance around to check no one is watching and quickly grab a handful of these delicious little sweet treats, it staves off the hunger between breakfast and lunch. They seem at their peak now and at some point soon the decision will be made to send out the pickers and the years wine making will begin.
First signs of Autumn
The rain has come but thankfully reluctantly, most days are dry and still warm. The wetter weather is trying to fight a battle with summer and soon it will be winning but for the time being at least, instead of a full blown argument, stormy weather has regular bickering sessions in which it occasionally triumphs. Storms come and go, lightning illuminates the evening sky and during late afternoon and evening I am treated to scenery in the skies which can only be described as monumental, certainly beautiful. Giant white clouds spread up from the horizon with smaller black relatives casually floating across, all flanked by zircon skies. Despite some early morning rain, evenings are meteorological gifts slowly unwrapping.
I’ve passed through some historical Spanish cities. The centres are always magnificent such as Pamplona, quite possibly one of the most rewarding places I’ve been. I’m not one for cities. The noise, bustle, smells and general rudeness are too much for me but this place, the first large settlement on the Spanish section is still as gorgeous as ever. After the uninspiring outskirts I crossed the Puente de la Magdalena and walked through the old , defensive moats below the towering, ancient city walls. I thudded over the wooden bridge under the Portal de Francia and suddenly the Pamplona of old revealed itself. High, slim, pastel coloured and stone buildings squeezed together separated by pedestrianised streets. Tapas and Pinchos bars served up tasty little treats and coffee bars were numerous.
The Meseta, Spain – A 110 mile stretch of grand plains and epic skies
I made my way up to the Plaza del Castillo and suddenly emerged to this wonderful square, flanked by bars and restaurants. After the dimness of the streets, del Castillo just opens up and throws light on you. I look around at the buildings, blues, terracottas, yellows and greens. It all somehow looks unreal, fake, as though it has a temporary life that will end soon. It makes you relish it all the more. I sat outside one of the bars with Patrick from Belgium, chatting and watching people stroll a out early on a Sunday evening. It’s just as memorable as the last time, old memories have received some gentle repairs, slight brush strokes and sympathetic restoration.
The refuges, which I remember as somewhat stressful affairs on my last walk have appeared to have mellowed, or maybe it’s me that has relaxed. I stayed at many some 11 years ago, becoming increasingly frustrated at rules, regulations, lock ins and lights being rudely switched on at 06.00 in the morning. Pilgrims stuffing plastic bags into rucksacks, dropping trekking poles and holding conversations as if no one else was in the room eventually saw me take flight and camp for a few nights. They’re still far from tranquil but the prison like atmosphere has mellowed. Those run by the churches, usually ‘donativo’ (donation), are the real gems. Sparse admittedly, hospital like bunk beds or thin mattresses spread around large rooms are simple but comfortable. Simple evening meals revolving around vegetables, fruit and bread are welcome and after a shower, the thought of a roof over your head for whatever you can afford can only foster a little humbleness. Perhaps finding fault as I did last time was a little unfair.
Approaching Castrojeriz, Spain
After an overnight stay in one such place, the Inglesia de Santiago el Real in Logrono, I made an early start with Patrick. Logrono is another city with a historic centre but somewhat lacklustre suburbs. We trudged out of old to new, inspiration fading. The locals swarmed the Camino, using it as the local walking, cycling and running route. All offered a ‘Bon Camino’ but it did little to make up for graffiti strewn walls and dim tunnels under the busy roads. It made me plod, feel lethargic, tired and although wanting to put in some miles, my legs took a little persuading. That’s what cities do to me, suppress any inclination. Eventually and gratefully, we left it behind for the countryside.
Castrojeriz Castillo, Spain
I walked ahead of Patrick that morning, indulging in a little solitude. I started to think, as I often do, about undertaking a long hike through Europe, perhaps 3000 miles or so. I would love to have a dog for this dream walk, despite not having one at the moment. I thought about the logistics of taking a dog; restaurants refusing entry, bars turning me away. These little aspects don’t bother me too much, I concentrate more on finding him (or her) water and if an animal could physically do such a mammoth walk, would the paws be able to handle it? I have met hikers with dogs before, some have no problems, others have to abandon the plan.
As if putting the question out there, I came across a French pilgrim called Pierre and his dog, sitting in the shade by the side of the trail. We chatted, enquiring about the usual questions such and where and when we started. Without asking, and whilst I gave his dog Alex a little attention, Pierre looked me in the eye and said, in broken English:
‘Fozzie, we always find water, sometimes he needs rest in the heat. And his paws are fine.’
He showed me his upturned hand, pointing to it to illustrate his point.
‘I thought they may become sore but they have hardened, he is doing well.’
Pamplona – A beautiful city that treated me grandly the second time around as well as the first
He looked directly at me, almost as if he knew I had questions that I wanted answering. He looked serious and I knew he was sincere, from the tone of his voice but more from his expression. During conversation, a persons sincerity is more observed than heard.
Patrick and I reached Najeda that evening, checked into a great Hostal by the river and went in search of some refreshment. Seeing Pierre again we took him a beer and then offered to buy him dinner. Patrick translated between French and English for me. Pierre looked a little dishevelled, he mentioned he had taken his first shower for a week last night, his belongings were dirty, his hair still still greasy and the sides of his head were shaved. I heard the word anarchy mentioned and turned to Patrick, raising my eyebrows for want of an explanation.
Patrick obliged, explaining that Pierre walked often and preferred to camp or sleep rough, partly due to limited funds and partly because his appearance attracted the police. He had been arrested for sleeping in a park last year with his previous dog. The dog, wanting to protect him, began barking and growling at the police when Pierre was placed in handcuffs. Much to Pierre’s anguish, they shot his dog.
He explained his anarchistic tendencies in a little detail. His lack of faith in how we are governed, how we are taxed, how he is treated unfairly by the police because of his appearance and his frustration with the system. It resonated with me. Here was a man following a life he loved. Like me, he painted to earn some money and when he had enough, he would take his devoted dog for a long hike. Sometimes he slept under a bridge, discreetly, or camped out of view. He would perhaps stay in a cheap hotel once a week and get cleaned up, do some laundry. His appearance suffered, as does a thru-hikers.
He dislikes rules and regulations, being told what to do. He doesn’t understand why we need insurance, mortgages, why everyone’s voice isn’t heard and why the government doesn’t really consult us, despite many people believing it does. He thinks we have lost our freedom and be hikes to escape, to lead a nomadic existence without rules where he tries to be as close to freedom as he could ever hope to be.
One of the less appealing parts of El Camino – The suberbs of Burgos, Spain
Patrick stopped the translation and again, this dishevelled, wiry little French mans thoughts had resonated with me.
Was I an anarchist? Do thru hikers undertake walks of several months duration to escape the system, to be as free as they could ever hope to be?
I consulted the dictionary:
1 – state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems:
he must ensure public order in a country threatened with anarchy
2 – absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.
I wouldn’t want a state of disorder but to have absolute freedom as an individual, if that is indeed possible in our society, is an idea I do hold onto. Perhaps there a little anarchy in me, yes.
Perhaps, there is a little anarchy in all of us ?