Puenta La Reina to Estella
A freight train full of pots assaulted my senses as I woke, my earplugs having worked themselves free overnight. You could hear the echos of snores resounding off the walls. I swung weary legs off the bed and hit my head on the low bunk. I swallowed back the curse on my lips in the morning darkness. I was sore. But this was the Camino, everyone by day five was sore. Taped knee and sticks in hand, concern evident on Royce’s face at the insistence of me walking on. Even if I had conceded somewhat and got my backpack sent ahead on the “donkey.” (A service available throughout the Camino trail for between 4 and 7 euro to get you bag sent ahead to the next stage or further.) We set out for Estella, the next stage of our journey on El Camino de Santiago.
Smells of fresh baguettes kept me going through the morning as we made our way through winding concrete streets and open barren landscapes of harvested fields. We found still warm freshly baked bread, croissants and fresh fruit for our breakfast as the sun began to warm, melting the dew from the ground. I trucked on, step after step, easier now without the weight of my pack. We came across a pilgrim stop, bathed in golden morning light. Pilgrim stops cropped up all the way to Santiago, places to rest along the route, especially for pilgrims. This stop was guarded by two small dogs, had a book swap, a stamp and an array of chairs positioned in the shade of the olive grove. A beautiful place put together for the hundreds of people who traverse the path every year. The final 2km of our 23km for the day were again the hardest. I leaned heavily on my sticks, pain striking its way through my leg with every step as we followed the cobbled streets into town.
Anxiety over whether or not the donkey would have safely delivered my pack was thankfully relived as we checked in to the municipal albergue, and got our pilgrim passports stamped. To stay in the albergues you must have a pilgrim passport and some form of ID. All pilgrims start the journey for different reasons, but we all finish as stamp collectors. To gain the certificate of completion in Santiago you must walked a minimum of 100km and have filled one booklet of stamps. Starting in St Jean one stamp a day is enough, but many stamps you find along the way are quirky and unique. Pilgrims who travel the 800kms often have more the one stamp book filled.
Ice on my knee I sat and wrote my daily diary as a large group of Korean pilgrims took over the kitchen. What a feast! 30 or so very bubbly smiling people came in with shopping bags full to bursting and cooked for the small army they were and then some. From what I gathered from there limited English, they had not started as a group but had formed together for language ease and to cook up a taste of home. They were very generous and anything left over was handed out to those that looked even remotely hungry. The beautiful thing about the Camino is (due to everyone wanting to have a light pack and not carry extra) is that food becomes communal. It’s easier and more enjoyable to cook together and share food around, especially if you have extra. While cooking our own dinner we saw a young man cooking up just two beef burger patties for himself, nothing else! We insisted he let us share some of ours so he got a decent meal, he was extremely thankful. People come on the Camino for all reasons from all walks of life and with different budgets, but the experience gives you an overwhelming sense of community. We were all cheering one another on, and making sure everyone stayed healthy and ate a decent meal!
Royce and I made the decision to stretch our budget so I could get a proper knee brace, and some wine and dessert. Upon returning however there was round of sangria being shared out from a group of pilgrims who had made 10 liters of it! Our bottle of wine seemed quite excessive after three glasses of sangria. Royce being Royce found some Canadians and Americans taking over as Hospitaleros (volunteers who run the municipal albergues) to chat with and help us finish it off.
Day 5 Estella
Day five dawned, we made the decision the night before to have a rest day to see if my knee would improve. Accommodation was booked across town in a bed and breakfast, and I was glad we did as I got up and found a bed bug on the bed underneath me! The little monster full to the brim with my blood. The staff weren’t pleased but took it in there stride and we spent most of the day cleaning EVERYTHING! Bed bugs start off the size of a pin head and at full maturity look somewhat like an apple seed with legs. They are most active at night time and are known for there distinctive three bites “breakfast, lunch and dinner” as it’s known. Recommendations if you have found bedbugs is to fumigate, EVERYTHING! They live in any nook and cranny they can find. They also can’t tolerate extreme heat. So if you planning a Camino trip make sure all your clothes and bedding can go through the tumble dryer! And don’t forget your bug spray!
At the beginning of the Camino, if you had bed bugs you might as well have had the plague! But by the end of the trip almost everyone had encountered them or new someone personally that had. Royce never got a bite! I on the other hand have a tendency to react badly to insect bites, and seeing as the bites can take between 1 and 10 days to become noticeable I was paranoid about the little critters for a good amount of the trip! The bites I received from Estella surfaced over the next couple of days and itched like mad! The reaction causing the small raised bites to become a mass of swollen itchiness.
Laundry done and bags coated in bug spray with plans to buy some more and the next town with an outdoors shop. We went to our bed and breakfast. I was at my wits end by this time, just emotionally wrecked. First my knee, now this! We had a long nap then I hobbled back to the old part of the city to the church and arduously climbed the steps. I’m not a religious person, I came on the Camino as an adventure, a traveller, but not as a church goer. But I am a spiritual person, someone who understands that science is the magic of old. And just because we don’t understand it doesn’t make it false. I felt broken physically and mentally and I went into the church, searching like so many before me had, for solace. I can’t deny that a church is a home for spirituality no matter your faith, and so I sat in the wooden pew and looked up at the gilded walls, ornate carvings, elaborate paintings and artworks of worship before me and hung my head in prayer. I prayed to whoever was listening, god, goddess, any angel passing by. I asked if I could be given the strength to keep walking, I asked if I could please carry on, let me walk, let me finish this journey. Tears fell as I looked up. A middle aged Spanish woman looked back, she was ushering me out of the church because it was siesta time and she was closing the doors. Not the grand moment you imagine, but I tried. I hobbled back, hoping that tomorrow my knee would improve.
Thanks for tuning in, and following my Camino journey. Find out next time how I made it to Los Arcos. For more up to date adventures don’t forget to head over to Instagram, and to leave a like and a comment below. If there’s anything about the Camino that you want to know more about let us know! Until next time.