The double bed of the B&B in Estella was hard to drag ourselves out of, the first comfortable, big bed and lack of snoring in seven days. We dragged ourselves out and I coated my knee in Voltarin gel, swigged back a couple of ibuprofen and put my new knee brace on. For good measure I taped up the right knee as well, I wasn’t going out without a fight! Leaving my bag at the door to be picked up by the donkey we headed out into the pre-dawn darkness. The pre-dawn city was quiet, lit only with the burnt orange street lamps, the sounds of our feet on the pavement almost seemed to echo. Heading straight out of the city was not as easy as expected. Because we were across town from the pilgrim path, it took us half an hour under the cloud covered sky to get back to the pavement marked with shells. Lack of cell phone reception meant Royce’s Camino app (My Camino) couldn’t find us in relation to the tracks wiggly line either.
Stories had been told in the pilgrim hostels of a ‘wine fountain.’ Monasterio de Irache is at a local vineyard it has a fountain with two taps; one with wine and one with water. Naturally we wanted to sample some of the local vintage and arrived bright and early at 7am to fill our plastic juice bottle with takeaway wine. Enough to have a glass at the end of the day. I decided 7am was a little early, or a little late depending on your perspective to actually be drinking wine. Royce however reasoned it was after midday somewhere and took a swig. “Not bad for free” I was promptly informed. The fountain is situated on an alternative route, the taps lead straight into the city of the building Bodegas de Irache winery in the small settlement of Ayegui. The winery was established in 1891, but the fountain was created to motivate tired pilgrims which it still achieves even today. The wine comes out at a dribble, the idea being you fill and drink from your Camino scallop shell your traditional drinking vessel as a pilgrim.
Wine pit-stop taken care of, we carried on along the alternative route, and promptly got lost. Or that is to say we saw some really unpleasantly coloured clouds on the horizon, and noticed the alternative routes squiggly line said we should follow a bike trail up on top of a mountain ridge. Which told me at some point we would have to come back down… My knee better in my brace but still definitely protesting, decided getting back to the main (much flatter) track was now our number one priority. This included crossing a main highway junction, on foot. Then sliding down a bank to where the track crossed under the road. No biggie at all when your crippled… Anyone would think I’m a sucker for punishment…
Through some bush and back out into the open, to.. More uphill. *Sigh* one painful step at a time I walked the miles away, wondering if today would be the day I wouldn’t make it to our destination. About the time these thoughts crossed my mind, we came across an older gentleman who asked me if I was in pain. (Which was a yes!) And would I like to use some of the medicine he had been given for tendinitis. I was of course ready to try anything at this point and agreed readily. The weather-worn sun-tanned man who I came to know as Sean Pierre from Switzerland immediately dropped his enormousness pack and pulled out two dark glass bottles. He dropped several drops of oil from each bottle in my open palm and told me to mix them together and rub them on my knee.
I learned the bottles contained an essential oil mix and a carrier oil to dilute the first. Sean Pierre had walked from his home town in Switzerland and had developed tendinitis along the way. His was walking with two doctors that had been able to diagnose him. They told him he either had to stop walking for three to six months, or to carry on through the pain. His destination was Santiago, so he kept walking. A few days after leaving his walking buddies behind, he came across a naturopathy shop in France. The woman in the shop gave him the oils, and he informed us that having used it twice a day within two days the pain was completely gone! I was naturally astounded by his story and very hopeful that the oils would indeed help me as well.
Sean Pierre’s story got even more incredible from there. We walked together as he talked, he was a brain cancer survivor! Roughly five years previous he had an operation to remove a tumor in his brain, which subsequently took a chunk of his brain as well. Specifically the area that contains short term memory. (This story I might add took some time to tell as he was struggling to remember the details.) He told us that his daughter had affectionately nicknamed him Dory. Since the operation he was no longer allowed to drive or even ride a bike, so he started walking. Sean Pierre walked all around his village until he could go no further, he kept getting lost. After a little research he decided on walking the Camino. He figured he couldn’t get lost with all the arrows! So he wrote his plan down in his diary and walked out the door of his home town in Switzerland. With instructions in the back of his diary to read when he reached Santiago. We met him on our day seven. He had already walked over 2000km to our meager 100km!
His stories were incredible! He could barely remember his own name, but what he could remember of his journey so far showed so much strength and determination. In his journey he had been plagued with blisters and tendinitis, and ended up in hospital from a bad reaction to a plant. His story spurred me on, if he could overcome all of that, surly a little knee pain was nothing! I walked with him, listening and keeping pace, both of us slow and steady as we reached Los Arcos. Sean Pierre said he would continue on and a thanked him heartily for helping me reach our destination. I was truly grateful for having met him.
The municipal was our stop in Los Arcos and there we came across my saving grace. A masseuse! An service attached to the albergue and a specialist in pilgrims! I booked myself in and got cleaned up in preparation. My masseuse, a stout bear of a man, with wide sun-kissed hands spoke almost no English, but the words he knew were important. I was sat down in the makeshift medical corner, my saviors white coat reflecting in the afternoon light streaming through the upstairs window. He told me sternly;
“Drink more water!”
Every pilgrim that went under his hand was told the same, More water, more water, more water! We were instructed to be drinking at least six liters daily! His practiced hands worked out the bulging knot in my leg. What was meant to be a half hour massage turned into closer to an hour as he slowly but surly helped ease the pain.
I wasn’t totally pain free but I felt a weight lifted off me knowing I hadn’t damaged it in any way, I just needed to take it easy and.. Drink more water! It may not seem like much to anyone else but it was as if my prayers had been answered. The massage made walking bearable again, and I knew I would be able to carry on. Sean Pierre’s story of endurance made me determined, I would get to Logrono tomorrow and would keep walking the day after that. I would make it to Santiago one step at a time!
Thanks for reading, I hope my story inspires others to keep pushing on their Camino journey. don’t forget to leave a like and feel free to share your own walking miracles in the comments, we love hearing from you! Check out Instagram for our latest adventures. Until next time get out the gate and get adventuring!