Distance from Villatuerta to Sansol, Spain 33.78 kilometers
Part of the “charm” of (others would say the problem with) staying in a communal room in an albergue along the Camino de Santiago is that your experience is highly dependent on the cordiality of, and how considerate your roommates are. After a good night’s rest (no snorers) we were awakened by the alarm of someone that decided they wanted to wake at five AM and apparently didn’t care that everyone else would hear their alarm as well. This was not a major problem. Easily forgiven. But, when they put their phone on snooze and left it in the room while they went to take a shower it was time for everyone to get up whether they wanted to or not.
In reality this turned out to be a good thing. Even though it wasn’t even yet sunrise we were dressed and out the door and already walking at six AM. This was planned to be a long day, over 30 kilometers, and it was best to get an early start. We had only been walking an hour or so when we entered the town of Estella.
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In medieval times Estella was known as “La Bella” because of grandeur of its buildings and monuments and has been an important reception point of the Camino de Santiago since the 11th century. We stopped, as is becoming our custom, for café con leche and a couple of delicious Spanish omelettes, rich with cheese and steaming potatoes, before taking a few minutes to explore the back streets and alleys a bit. Sarah and I were both completely entranced by the towns ancient beauty.
Along the Santiago de Compostela just west of Estella, near the Monasterio de Irache is another site that many pilgrims would consider holy, the wine fountain at Bodegas Irache. The winery installed the fountain so the pilgrims walking The Way can help themselves to a free glass of (water bottle full) wine to help spur them along the route. A pretty nice perk if you ask me, and even though it was still early in the day, it would have been rude to pass by without partaking in this local ritual.
After the fountain we started matching west and found ourselves in the middle of huge landscapes filled with vineyards, wheat and rape (canola) fields. It started with gentle hills, often flanked with trees to provide shade, but soon it became flat, almost monotonous, with nothing to break the walking but the occasional tiny villages with no place open to escape the sun. We trudged forward for several kilometers at the mercy of the hot sun with no end in site. We caught glimpses of what we assumed was the town of Los Arcos in the shimmering distance, but no matter how far we walked it never seemed to get closer.
I had just said to Sarah, “Wouldn’t it be nice if someone had the foresight to put up a place where people could sit in the shade, get a bite to eat and a cold drink, somewhere along this part. It would be a goldmine.” Then we rounded a little bend and there, behind a little copse of trees is saw exactly what I had just asked for. Someone had set up a food truck, here in the middle of nowhere, selling delicious sandwiches, cold drinks and providing little temporary pavilions where pilgrims could sit in the shade and enjoy them. The proprietors were even playing the Grateful Dead, The Band and Neil Young quite loudly as they prepared food and danced around in the trailer. We heard more than one trekker say, “Is this a mirage?”, as they walked up for refreshment. During the half hour we spent there soaking up the ambience, we saw no one walk by without stopping.
Feeling refreshed we finally summoned up the will to continue walking. After about an hour we arrived into Los Arcos, a town that has been inhabited since Roman towns, but whose population has been roughly halved in the last few generations because of young people moving to bigger cities for more opportunities. It seems sad really, because what they left behind is a charming place with fine ancient architecture, commanding views of the countryside and a sunny “Plaza Mayor” where pilgrims and, what’s left of, the locals mix, have a meal and discuss the news of the day.
We didn’t stop for long in Los Arcos because we had reserved two beds in a albergue in the village of Sansol about another hour and a half away. We had covered almost 34 kilometers (21 miles) and by the time we arrived we were just about out of gas. It didn’t matter that what we thought was a small albergue turned out to be the one with 24 beds in one room. It didn’t matter that there was only one place in town to get food (our albergue). We were home for the night. And as a bonus, our friend Ian who we had met several days ago was there as well!