Browsing Category


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.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Estella, pilgrimage, Spain, Uterga

September 6th, Day 5: Uterga to Estella: Something Clicks

Looking back from Uterga.

I leave Uterga around 8 a.m., late for most pilgrims, but again, I’m not concerned with being the first one on the way. The coin operated coffee machine outside the albergue is broken and after a few tries for a cafe con leche or cortado, I give up and head out. The sun is rising over the wind turbines behind me. The rain in the night has cooled things off and the morning light is soft and warm. I have the path completely to myself.

Early morning walk from Uterga to Obanos

I walk the 4km to Obanos in what feels like minutes. My feet feel great! Obanos is beautiful and I’m immediately mad at myself for not covering the additional 4km yesterday to stay here. The village is still asleep though, and there’s no chance for a coffee, so I decide to power on to the next town and stop for breakfast.


Just before leaving Obanos, I run into Terry and Juanita. We find a little market selling fresh fruit and buy a couple of oranges to tide us over. I leave town with them, and we catch up on who we have run into since day one and their escapade of finding accommodation in Zubiri. Things seem to be going much better for them now, they have found their groove. I break away and we agree to meet for a coffee in the next town, Puenta La Reina.

I arrive in the charming, small city of Puenta La Reina, find a shop to stock up on some more fresh fruit and granola bars, and then make my way to a cafe for a real breakfast. I find a spot with outside tables head inside and find a bar occupied with about ten Spanish men who are enjoying their morning vino, conversation and newspapers. I order a bocadillo (a sausage and egg sandwich on crusty bread) and a cafe con leche and make my way back outside to wait for Terry and Juanita.

While waiting, another pilgrim comes along and walks up to my table, drops her pack and asks me if I’ll watch it while she orders food. She treats me to a second coffee and we share our condensed life stories, Mimi is from LA and now lives in Surrey, England and works as a baker. She curses like a sailor and tells it how it is. She has had a few rough days of IT band pain, has shipped half the contents of her pack home, and is adamant she will make it to Santiago. She tells me how she has stocked her freezer of all her baked goods and her husband is at home running the show while she is on her pilgrimage.

As Mimi and I begin to pack up and leave town, Juanita and Terry catch up. We all cross the Roman bridge together, and I break away, feeling well and strong. The day is heating up though, and I’m met with a steep hill on the outskirts of town. I refill my water, greet two other pilgrims, Eddie from Austria and his current walking buddy, and I then walk the entire afternoon without passing another pilgrim. It’s like I have the whole path to myself. It’s beautiful, the weather is perfect and I feel as if I can walk forever…finally my feet, brain and body have aligned.

Maneru, between Obanos and Lorca

I cross through a few villages, some stretches longer than others, but there is no need for music or distraction today. I am able to savor every step. I leave Puneta La Reina at 11 a.m. and arrive in Lorca at 3 p.m. I have a little picnic outside the steps of a bodega, and I think about the next town, Estella. Specifically, I think about how it sounds like ‘Australia,’ which immediately reminds me of the Australians, Sue and Allan, that I had met shortly before leaving Roncesvalles. Well, wouldn’t you know that I look up as Allan is walking out of the bodega. I don’t recognize him at first, but Sue follows him out, and we sit on the steps in the town of Lorca with a Canadian woman Jennifer, who take us through the story of her first Camino, that she couldn’t finish due to illness. She is back out again to try another time and is feeling strong.

Map of the world just outside Maneru

I take a moment to appreciate the depths of conversation that come so quickly on the road, and as I am learning, specifically on the Camino, and as much as I think Lorca is lovely, I decide I feel strong enough to keep walking. I have already covered 21 km, and it has been a full day, but I want to push on and see if I can catch up with Sean, Ray, Tammy and Gill.

It is an hours walk to the next town, which goes by quickly. I check out the private albergue at 12 Euro. My feet are ready to stop, but I know I’m going to push on to Estella. I grab a Fanta and a granola bar from the vending machine, and make my way out of town. It is nearing end of day and as I reach the outskirts of town, I meet Andre, from the Czech Republic, who is walking in the opposite direction. He has been walking for four months and I can see and sense how tired he is. I offer him some food, and he politely and lethargicly declines. He has decided to head back to the previous town to call it a day.

I push onto Estella, passing through farmlands that hug an empty roadway, and it’s not too long before I arrive. A few municipal and private albergues are listed, but I head straight and end up at one of the larger, municipal albergues. I stand at reception, and begin the check-in process, the volunteer asking me where I started out and commending me on my 30 km day. I then listen to him tell me there are no beds left. Another older pilgrim standing at the desk looks at me with such empathy and asks the man to please find me a bed. Then an older woman sitting next to this man pipes up. She clearly runs the show, and she says, “She needs a bed??? We have one bed left!!!” I can’t explain the feeling of relief knowing I don’t have to walk any further.

The woman walks me up to the second floor to show me my bunk. She says it’s the last bed and the only reason it’s available is because a father and daughter moved to a private room because of the snorers. I look over, and see my older, heavy set, Spanish roommates from Zubiri. They greet me in a jovial manner, despite the fact that we can’t really converse, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s partly nice to see their familiar faces and receive a warm welcome, but these men can keep an entire floor awake. I pray the fatigue from a 30km day will win out over their snores.

Street of Hope

I head out to pick up a sandwich and pass an old, ornate church. In the square, children are scurrying around and playing before dinner. I contemplate exploring, but thunder and lightening ensue and I’m forced back inside for the evening.

I crawl into bed around 9, but by 11pm I’m wired. I feel physically spent, but I have this mental clarity which is preventing me from sleeping. I get up and walk away from the snoring and sit on the cold, marble staircase. The rest of the hostel is asleep, except for one girl having a cigarette on the back porch. I send a few messages home and scroll through the pictures I took throughout the day. I stop at one in particular: a photo of  the blue and yellow scallop shell, indicating The Way, with the street name Calle De La Esperanza below. ‘Street of Hope.’  I smile because I had no idea when I took the picture why I chose this street sign in particular, but in hindsight, it is so fitting for the day I had. I head back to bed, full of hope for better, stronger days on my journey to Santiago.