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Wednesday 31st July 2019

Night of deep, uninterrupted sleep my big, fat hairy arse! I have been kept awake all night by a noisy French family in the adjacent room. No idea what they were arguing so vehemently about, but I could hear that there were three of them, furious father, tearful, conciliatory mother and small child who seemed to be pleading for peace. We strap on our rucksacks and head off to find a bar. I have my first “napolitano”, a type of flat pastry full of chocolate. The café con leche is excellent and I forget my gripes with the French family. It is another glorious day and another glorious walk. In the village of Cirauqui we bump into the mother and son combo from Modena. They are with a small group of Italians from various parts of the country. It is nice to see them. “Have any of you managed to have a shit since we left France?” is the son’s idea of a conversation opener. Within seconds everyone is assiduously studying the cracks in the pavement, all except for Mrs. Asinello who gives a nurse’s perspective on why a change of diet might lead to difficulties in defecation.

We walk on quickly, before he can ask us whether any of us have managed to have sex on the camino so far, and stop off in Lorca for a beer and tortilla. The tortilla here is quite plain – most disappointing after the one in Trinidad de Arre. Blandine pokes her head in as she passes and we invite her to join us for a beer, which she does. She is interesting to talk to, despite language barriers. Fluent in French and Spanish, her English is limited, as is my French, and we settle on a type of franglais. She is a truly beautiful soul and we speak of our families, of the state of the Church in Italy and in France, of our short-term pessimism and long-term optimism. We continue walking together, through the town of Villatuerta and on to Estella, where we part company and head off to look for a hostel. Blandine pulls our legs a little at this point: “How many stars must your hostel have?” she asks us. Apparently we have earned a reputation, probably well-deserved, for not wanting to rough it too much.

We are always looking out for nice private rooms and nice restaurants if at all possible. Indeed, we almost immediately find a lovely private room in the Hosteria de Curtidores here in Estella. It is clean and modern and has a marvellous view of the river. Blandine traipses off to sleep in the communal hostel and Mrs. Asinello and I check in, settle down, answer Whatsapp messages and set off to explore Estella. On the way out, the hostel owner pours a small glass of their homemade beer for me to try. It is delicious and I promise to come back later to buy a more robust glass. It is a promise I keep later that afternoon. 

After all the walking we decide to take the tourist train around Estella. The driver, a quiet, balding man in his 50s, tells us that the rate is reduced because of the traffic but that if we would still like to take the tour we are very welcome to do so. We do so. The traffic is pretty shocking and we don’t see very much of the town, but what we do see is extremely pleasant. We are alone in the train apart from a woman and her young son who seem to know the driver well and who, I suspect, are family members just tagging along as they have nothing better to do. Back at the pick-up point, the driver refuses to take our money, saying that he has not been able to do the town justice. We try to insist but he won’t hear of it.

We offer him something to drink, a coffee, perhaps. No. He is adamant. I am more and more surprised every day at just how lovely the Spanish are. I did not expect it. I have read so many stories about how horrible they are to animals that I have always just assumed that they must be a really nasty race of people and no mistake. I cannot square my prejudices with what I am discovering now. We have not yet met one unfriendly Spaniard. How can such a lovely bunch of people be so indifferent to the well-being of our four-legged friends? 

Mass is in the Iglesia de San Miguel where the priest invites the pilgrims to come forward to receive a blessing and a copy of the Pilgrim’s Prayer to recite every morning. We wander around in search of a restaurant and are attracted by the simplicity of the Restaurante Katxetas where I start with the bean soup and follow with the lamb ribs. Mrs. Asinello opts for the steak and chips with red peppers. It is all washed down with a carafe of robust red plonk and another glass of Patxaran. The owner is, surprise surprise, a friendly chap, but he speaks no English or Italian, so we are forced to communicate in pidgin Spanish. Exhausted after last night’s lack of sleep, and a delightful but exhausting day, we turn in and drift off to sleep to the sound of the rushing waters outside the hostel. 

Music: The Wildhearts – Renaissance Men

Splendid album – the single “Diagnosis” became the signature tune of my camino

Audiobook: Jane Austen – Emma



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