Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Estella, pilgrimage, Spain, Torres del Rio

September 7th, Day 6: Estella to Torres El Rio: There’s No Room at the Inn

Wine fountain in Estella

The world is awake and in a hurry to get on the road. I again, decide to hang back and let the masses leave and head out after a coffee. On my way out of town, I note the heavy skies and stop at a gas station shop when I see a poncho hanging in the window. I’m not going to take any chances. 7 Euro later, I am the proud owner of an unnervingly thin, bright yellow poncho.

No vino at the fountain

On the outskirts of town, I finally run into Tammy and Gill. Ray and Sean have already left and I’m disappointed I’ve missed the opportunity to say goodbye. We continue on as a group of three, and it’s odd to be with others at first. I have spent an entire four days walking completely alone, but I think it was good for me to be by myself through the pain of those first few days. The pain had been having a negative impact on my overall demeanor and mood, and I don’t think I would have been good company to anyone.

Shortly into our walk, we stop at the fountain of wine. Ironically, it has run dry… no vino for us, yet. At the next town, I stop for a coffee, and Tammy and Gill walk ahead. Before parting ways, we decide to exchange email addresses just in case. The tentative plan is to reconvene in Los Arcos, which is a solid stretch of 20km, but we talk about continuing on.

Early morning light on the hilltop outside of Estella

The next 10 km go by surprisingly fast, but the last 3 km into town are a bit painful. As I reach town, there’s a little cafe on the left, and I debate about stopping for a quick bite. Instead, I decide to look for Tammy and Gill and check out accommodation, and in doing so, I miss the hand-written note that they have left for me on the sign outside that little cafe. The note was to inform me they have decided to keep walking to Sansol.

Meanwhile, I check out the first albergue, which is filling up quickly… I don’t get a good vibe and there’s no sign of Tammy and Gill, so I walk through town to check out the other albergues. There are no beds left anywhere and more people are continuing to arrive.

I begin chatting to a group of Israelis at a private albergue on the outskirts of town. They have been offered the floor in the garage and invite me to camp out with them, but with no sleeping pad, I’m hesitant. I walk back through town and sit with my indecision. The square is full of pilgrims, and I see my Spanish snorers. They call out and wave to me. They are on their second or third beers, smoking and smiling away. The air is turning chilly very quickly and storms are brewing above. I weigh my options of pushing on to Torres El Rio or sleeping on the floor in Los Arcos, and then the heavens open.

Heavy skies just outside of Los Arcos

I feel drunk from the combination of hunger and fatigue, and I find a market to buy some food. I have all these things in my hands when I approach the counter, and I slowly start debating what to buy, putting some things back at the last minute. I don’t know what I need or want and the lady who runs the shop is losing patience with me. I end up with a cookie and an energy drink. I top this off with a cortado and make the decision to hightail it out of Los Arcos. I gather my things from the albergue, and the kind lady there calls ahead to Torres El Rio to reserve me a bed at Casa Maria. I bid farewell to the Israelis and at 5pm, I am back on the road.

My body is tired and barely fueled up, but I walk with more strength and determination than I have all week. 7 kms go by in the blink of an eye. I pass through Sansol – a sleepy little town with not a soul in sight but arrive in Torres El Rio to some type of festival. People are pouring out of buildings, children are dressed up in costume and a stage is set in preparation for a concert.

I see Casa Maria across the square and make my way to check in. Reception is swarming with pilgrims and I learn there are no beds left. I try to explain about the phonecall made by the lady in Los Arcos, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are full. Eddie, the Austrian, and I are in the same predicament. We don’t know what to do. Walking on is not an option – it is too late in the day, and I have already covered close to 30 kms. Oddly, I’m not bewildered by this situation. I’m hopeful that something will work out. Fernando, who runs Casa Maria and the small adjoining shop, eventually takes pity on us. He offers Eddie and I the market floor for 5 Euros each.

I opt in for the pilgrim’s dinner, which is held in an upstairs restaurant. It’s a beautiful spot, with dark wood floors, large wooden tables and chairs, and clean white linens. Everyone is looking clean and presentable, and I’m still in my sweaty trekking clothes, preparing for a night on the market floor! Still, dinner is delicious and I savor every bite of the traditional pilgrim’s dinner – salad, chicken and chocolate mousse, topped off with fresh bread and endless amounts of vino tinto. I share the table with two ladies from Aix-en-Provence, two Swiss-Germans, and Eddie. I keep my eyes peeled for Tammy and Gill, but I never do find them.

Eddie from Austria

We head back to the market after dinner but have to wait until 10:30 for the shop to close up before we can create our makeshift beds for the night. I sit on a small chair in the corner of the shop near reception, and moments later, Pedro, my Brazilian bunk neighbor from Roncesvalles appears. We each have a beer and converse in broken English and Spanish.

He looks down at my feet – dirty, dusty, band aids, blisters and all and asks if they hurt. I try to explain that once I have my boots off, they don’t. He then pats his legs, as if to tell me to put my feet up on his lap and he begins to rub my dirty, blistered feet. I am so taken aback by this gesture. I am left speechless.

The marketplace floor, my bed for the night.

Fernando is ready to close up shop, so I say goodnight to Pedro and find Eddie. Fernando tells us he only has one mattress. I know Eddie has back pain because he transports his backpack on a little device with wheels, almost like a cross between a stroller and a golf bag holder that you can push along. Needless to say, I give Eddie the mattress. I fold a comforter in half to provide some cushion and unroll my sleep sheet. After a shower, I’m actually thinking that this may be the best night’s sleep I will have on the Camino due to the lack of collective snoring. Eddie says he’s not a snorer, and with just the two of us in here, it will be the quietest night yet, or so I believe.

I fall asleep at 11, but around 1 a.m., I am rudely awakened by the festival band that has come back for a second set. I feel as if I’m sleeping under the stage. They play a combination of traditional Spanish music and American pop, blaring out the Black Eyed Peas, “I gotta feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night,” and I think to myself, “No, no, it really isn’t.” The band shows no sign of stopping, and the music continues until 5 a.m.

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