August 28, 2012 — Estella –Third day of walking

Hello all – we found ourselves in Cirauqui last night, described in the guidebook as an exceptionally well- preserved medieval hilltop town. It had no Internet — the albergue owner thought that perhaps we could sit in the town plaza and get the government Internet, but that didn’t work, so tonight is catch up. These are largely unedited notes; hope they are reasonably well-connected and readable.
We’ve walked for three days now, and a few things are becoming evident.
One, it’s hot. All of the locals are complaining that it’s too hot. Hot means from 30 to 33 degrees centigrade (high 80s to the low 90s). This morning we left at 7:00 a.m. — dawn — and some clouds came in for a couple of hours. It was most pleasant. But then the sun broke through.
This brings us to the second thing we’ve learned — The Camino is hilly. There’s a flat section (the meseta) that starts in a week or so (billed by many as boring; and by most as without shade or water). But for all of the reading I’ve done about the route, it had only recently begun to sink in that this was not a walk in, for example, Amsterdam. On the average day, reading ahead in the guidebook more closely based on experience, there’s an average elevation gain of at least 300 metres (984 feet). That’s not 1,000 feet up every day — it’s a few hundred feet up, then down, then up, then down. I wasn’t at all expecting that, and it’s taking a bit of getting used to.
And the third thing  I’ve learned is that I’m not going to carry my backpack. I confess to it all — I brought too much stuff, the backpack doesn’t fit right, I didn’t train enough — anyone who would like to say, “I told you so,” should feel free to do so, because many people did tell me so. But we’re here, and I’m not going to stop the trip because I set out wrong. I shipped the bag yesterday — six euros — and it showed up today exactly where it was supposed to be. The trickiest part is that you have to ship it to a specific place, and you have to get to that place yourself. So it requires a certain commitment that you will walk the distance (or take a cab — we’d still rather not do that). I have a lightweight small dayback to carry the things needed for the day; plus the computer and a few things that I couldn’t do without it the bag got lost. It worked OK today, and I’m hoping that it will continue to do so. Anthea and Jim will carry their bags, at least for now.
Tonight we’re in Estella; it was a short day of walking. We’re averaging about 11 miles a day, plus a couple in the towns — the temperatures have been in the high 80s and low 90s, and much of the distance has no shade.
In view of the lack of Internet, I composed yesterday’s notes on the computer and will post them below, along with photos.
Today we started out by walking on the old Roman road — stones that were laid 2,000 years ago, and are still walked upon (but I wouldn’t want to drive a vehicle on them — pretty rough. We struggled (me, with the help of Jim and Anthea) down very steep steps to the old Roman bridge, and back up the other side. Along the way we ate lots of tiny black raspberries — we’ve seen figs, apples, grapes today — one could eat fairly well as a forager along the Camino.
We had many more companions today walking from Cirauqui to Estella (many of them undoubtedly started further back, and caught up and passed us — Jim and I have yet to pass anyone because I walk relatively slowly). Some from the U.S., England, Australia. More Germans; plenty of bicyclists, a Korean woman, and other European countries.
Our tans (sunburns actually) are Camino style — mostly on the left side, because that is where the sun is as we’re walking west.
It’s 9:30 at night and dark, but there are still kids playing soccer on the street below the pension where we’re staying. At 8:00 in the main plaza dozens of kids, from toddlers to teenagers were playing soccer, riding scooters,  falling down, scoping out the other kids, etc.– many more kids than you would ever see randomly playing in the U.S.
Time to add photos and send this on — hope all are having a good week — Teri, Jim, Anthea
August 27, 2012 – Cirauqui – Second Camino Day
Picture this – Carved wooden headboard. Lace bedspread. Hardwood floors. Wood and glass French doors opening onto a tiny balcony. And beyond the balcony, because this albergue sits on the top of a hill in a medieval town, the houses drop away sharply below, and the room looks out over a valley and the hills beyond. In the valley, the land is patchworked with vineyards, olive groves, golden wheat stubble, and red-brown plowed fields. Forests cover the hillsides.
We are on the back of the albergue where we have decided to settle in (being unable to actually move any further); the front faces onto the plaza, where the church dominates – every quarter hour, its bells chime. A breeze sweeps away the heat of the sun from the room, and Jim sleeps soundly – siesta time. Anthea and I are eager to get to the pharmacy and the supermarket, both of which open again at 6:00, but we don’t want to miss dinner or the church event.
Food today has been bread and cheese. This morning it was toast with four cheeses (melted and browned); for lunch it was a minimalist bocadillo (sandwich) – a baguette sliced in half with a few slices of cheese slapped between – no tomatoes, no mayonnaise, no frills at all. We are hoping for something at dinner that involves actual fruit or vegetables.
Wonders of walking sticks, and hats. Walking sticks are Godsends. We have one each; mine was a gift from a friend 15 years ago, before the bone marrow transplant, as a token or reminder of the Camino. Jim and Anthea have Leki brand; all three are collapsible. They make an immense difference on the uphills and downhills (and have I mentioned that there are way too many of those? And I bought a hat yesterday in Uterga – much lighter weight than anything that I saw at REI, and therefore perfect for a hat-o-phobe. I wore it today, in the mid-90s heat, and just like the walking stick was greatly surprised at how much it helped.
Red dirt west of Rio Arga – start seeing olive groves, vineyards.
Wildlife for the day: two big black beetles, both stuck helplessly in the road, so  we moved them; a striped lizard. Some birds. Donkey droppings. Some skinny, but well-kept cats.
In Muzarbal and Obanos – the smell of money – manure . Started off at 7:40 a.m., with the sky clouding over. When we stopped at 10:00, looked as if they might bring rain. Burned off by 11:00 or so, and has stayed hot, mostly sunny. A breeze again, much of the time, at our backs.
The 5:00 dog chorus – just after the churchbells announced 5:00 p.m., the dogs started barking and barking and barking. They’ve died down a bit (5:15 p.m.) 9:45 – they’ve been on and off all evening. Not entirely clear what sets them off.
9:50 p.m.  – Walked around taking photos – the church of Saint Catherine Santa Catalina has most of the heads of the statues around the entrance knocked off – by whom? The Protestants did that, but did the revolutionaries?
Shopped with Anthea, for sunburn cream, bandaids, Purrell. At the Supermercado, got dates (I thought they were black figs), oranges and an apple, pastries for breakfast. Went to Mass – ½ hour, total (no Gloria, no Creed). But before hand, a group of 15-20 people, mostly women, two men, sat praying the Rosary (not kneeling). The cantor spoke the first part; the others responded, filling the church with their unsynchronized answers, echoing off the baroque gold altarpieces, the painted but unadorned walls, the Romanesque stone columns. I liked the priest – he seemed to believe in what he was doing, but without any fanaticism in his tone (not sour like the first priest in Barcelona last fall). A half dozen pilgrims besides us attended. No place to light candles. The large crucifix was off to the side – St. Roman (whoever he is) had the place of honor behind the altar, with a small crucifix high above. The tabernacle and lectern (ambo? Pulpit?) were very modern, with dark green marble; the tabernacle itself was a brushed gold with modern design – but it all fit in well with the Baroque.
Then we went to dinner. The Albergue owner seated us with an Italian woman who is walking in stages, and seemed a bit cynical at times (and she refused to toast with us), and a French-speaking Canadian couple – the man spoke a little English, and conversed with Jim. The woman (Jacinto?) didn’t seem to speak either English or Spanish or Italian. The Italian and Anthea and I at one end of the table conversed some. We all ate spinach soup – a puree that tasted as if it might have potatoes in it as well; pasta, and a bowl of meatballs in tomato sauce – all served family style. Dessert was a pudding with a cinnamon-dusted small cookie on top. The wine was local, red, and good; there was water as well.
How are we faring, after day 2 (about 12 miles)? I claimed the first blister (it’s not quite a blister yet, but a toe that’s been a problem before and appears ready to start again). I have lots of sore spots from the backpack, and it’s very tiring to walk.  So, I’ve decided to send my bag to Estella; to the first albergue. We will pick it up there and look for a place to stay (or do it in the other order, perhaps).
Jim has no complaints but fatigue; Anthea’s sunburn is still bothering her. We have Camino tans – mostly on the left side. We are always walking west, and unless it’s late in the day, the sun is either behind us or to the south.
Today we walked in the morning – when it was only in the high 70s – alongside plowed fields, wheat stubble, and the beginnings of vineyards and olive groves. We picked tiny black raspberries from bushes along the path, and admired the spreading bushes covered with small orange rose hips. The sky clouded over for a few hours; we expressed proper gratitude for the lack of sun and the lack of rain, both. At Obanos, we stopped for breakfast – we’ve agreed that we should stop to eat and drink every two hours – it’s the only way to stay sane and able to continue walking.
At Puente la Reina, we made our way through town looking for an open pharmacy – none to be had. And we passed up several stores with delicious-looking produce because we weren’t ready to eat and didn’t want to carry it. Maybe a mistake, because Cirauqui had only a small grocery with few fruits or veggies. We walked over the bridge that gives the town its name – the “Bridge of the Queen.” Dona Mayor, the wife of Sancho III, built it to save the pilgrims from the greed of the ferry captains who controlled the only way to get across the river.
Soon after Puente la Reina, we started up another steep hill, about a third the distance of the Alto de Perdon on the first day. The gravel path curved up and up – the pilgrims on foot passed us (most of them had passed us before Puente la Reina); the bicyclists panting along in their lowest gear passed us; the people walking their bikes passed us . . . But the pine forests were scented, and the views back behind us were dramatic. We met Anthea at Maneru where we found a bar to serve us small beers (Jim and Anthea) and decaf espresso (me), along with bocadillos – sandwiches that in this case consisted entirely of a baguette cut in half and some slices of white cheese slapped on.
     [End of notes for August 27 — at night, the clouds covered much of the sky, but the moonlight edged around them, and sheet lightning filled the air for a couple of hours.]
The view from our balcony at the albergue in Cirauqui.
Our charming bedroom, with lace coverlet and carved wood headboard  in Cirauqui.
The very gilded Baroque altar in Cirauqui’s main church. The church is Romanesque from the 11th or 12th century, but in many of the old churches, the original altars were replaced a few hundred years later with the much gaudier Baroque styles.
A street view in Cirauqui from the church plaza.
The Roman bridge.
Jim and Anthea on the Roman bridge.
Someone created outlines of the continents on a hillside that we passed this morning. It was too far away to figure out they did it, but they did a great job.
A food truck on the Camino this morning, offering coffee, juice, etc., plus Camino trinkets, hats, walking sticks (not useful ones) and so forth.
Graffiti in an underpass along the Camino today.
Edgy mannequins in an Estella store.
A medieval monster mouth (to the right) eating people, and other sculptures on the Romanesque cathedral in Estella (I think — maybe Pente la Reina?  Getting late).

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