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Sunday 28th July 2019

The weather is dry when we awake but the sky is overcast. Better than yesterday, at least. Back in La Posada, where we “enjoyed” the pea soup and pescado just a few hours previously, we find ourselves sitting next to the foul-mouthed photographer from Basingstoke and his travelling companion. The “big” breakfast that we have already paid for turns out to be stale old baguettes, toasted in a failed attempt to bring them back to life, with an admittedly excellent coffee. The photographer agrees. “Fucking great coffee!” he exclaims. We have another fucking great coffee while he studies the weather-forecasting app on his phone. “It’s not going to rain,” he announces. “And it’s going to brighten up later.” It is pissing down as we step outside and I immediately forget my vow to clean up my language during this pilgrimage. “FUCK!” I scream at the sky. “FUCKETY FUCKING FUCK!”

The rain accompanies us as far as Burguete, where Ernst Hemingway spent a great deal of time. It is a pretty village but I am in no mood to be appeased and when Mrs Asinello points her smart phone at me to take a photo, I childishly flip my middle finger at it.

As we head through oak and beech forests towards Espinal, however, I start to cheer up, in spite of my determination to wallow in self-pity, and by the time we get to Biskarreta, I am feeling positively cheerful. Biskarreta is known for its production of Patxaran, a rich liqueur made from small plums. The place to try it, according to my guidebook, is the Bar Dena Ona, where the owner is playing non-stop Elvis tracks at high volume. He is a friendly soul and I show him my guidebook, which recommends his establishment. His face cracks into a broad smile and he serves me a generous glass of Patxaran. I wax so lyrical about this delicious drink that the other Italians sitting outside, get up and troop into the bar to get a glass for themselves. It crosses my mind to buy a whole bottle, empty my water flask and fill it with Patxaran instead, but Mrs. Asinello questions the wisdom of doing so, with another 10km or so still to go to get to Zubiri, and I reluctantly admit that she is right. 

Zubiri is a charming little place. To get to the “centre” you have to cross the Gothic “Puenta de la Rabia” which apparently has the power to protect animals from rabies, if you walk them three times across it. Certainly I no longer have any trace of “rabia” in me, thanks partly to the Patxaran and partly to the fact that the sun is now shining and the day is glorious. We find accommodation in the Albergue Rio Arga Ibaia (10 people per room for €15 a head, breakfast included). The next priority is beer, and we sample a couple of bottles of Estrella Galicia at the Café del Camino. I like it here. The girls serving are, like everyone we have met so far, super friendly and, given that Zubiri is tiny, we decide to book a table for dinner and leave a deposit of €10. The afternoon is spent down on the banks of the River Arga, where we spot some familiar faces, including the mother and son combo from Modena and Alessandro the Florentine. Now in shorts and T-shirt and with my feet dangling in the Arga’s cool waters, I feel happier than I have at any time since I left Toulouse. If things continue like this, it is not going to be as bad as I feared it would be last night.

Mass is in the Iglesia de San Esteban and is in a mix of Italian and Spanish. Participating are the two priests we met in the Posada last night. They look much more impressive in their cassocks and out of their civvy-street clothes. I have been advised to try the cod-stuffed red peppers at the Café del Camino, but for some inexplicable reason I have a craving for sausage, eggs and beer, followed by cheesecake.

Not very Spanish at all, but it certainly hits the spot. I could stay here all night but we have to hit the sack early. We are setting off at cock-crow tomorrow. I crawl into my sleeping bag and take a look at our roommates. There is a pretty blonde French girl with the most infectious smile I have ever seen, a couple of Orientals, and an elderly French couple who are bickering about something or other. They continue to do so after lights-out but I am so exhausted that I fall asleep in minutes. 

Music: The Wildhearts – Stop Us if You’ve Heard This One Before

Audiobook: Charles Dickens – Pictures from Italy

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