Leaving Estella at eight on a winter’s morning, you’d need to check your watch to believe the time.
And you’d need to watch every step on the film of ice.
This would be the weather’s day, unfortunately. Some of the best country of the Camino was cloaked in rain and cloud, and it was hard to lift the head let alone take snaps.
Before leaving Estella, it’s interesting to reflect that it was one of the strongholds of the Carlists during that strange war of the 1870’s, where the tensions between left and right, liberal and conservative, Basques and centralisers, were expressed as dynastic loyalties. I won’t be trying to untangle it all, but the notion is very Spanish, isn’t it? Even sixty years on from that third Carlist war, an uneasy alliance between Basques and fascists was the unlikely fruit of Carlism. If only life was like the movies, with cute rebels wearing red bandanas fighting against anally uniformed generals with facial twitches!
I don’t wish to encourage vice, but there are days when you would be better off holed up in a winery, especially if it has its own wine fountain, like this one outside Estella.
Nonethless, I pressed on…or slid on.
The rain soon arrived, to complete the misery. The uselessness of my Goretex jacket was soon apparent. It kept my torso dry, but if I wanted to keep my pack and most of me dry, I’d still have to put on my Lafuma poncho. If I donned the poncho after the rain started, I’d have to put it over the wet jacket. The jacket had to be abandoned. (The Lafuma functions well as a true poncho. Others, even expensive ones by Exped and Sea to Summit, are neither stable nor fully waterproof.)
So far, nothing beats the Altus jacket I bought later along the trail, a simple long plastic raincoat with a hump to cover the pack. It’s actually made in Spain, and very well designed: stable in high wind, its zip and velcro closures can be operated by frozen hands. An improved version using sil nylon and a better hood allowing for lateral vision would be a pilgrim’s dream, though it’s pretty good as it is!
But what business, even in Spain, wants to stock a jacket that can retail for under 30 euros? When you’ve got racks of Goretex to move?
Finally, Los Arcos.
People have been here a long time. According to local archaeological digs, before it was Roman, this was a Basque city. I say “city” because I suspect we constantly underestimate the civilising, constructive character of the Basque people. ETA and the bomb-chuckers are a bad fit with those they claim to represent: a people who see finished culture in every activity of their lives, from ball games to cookery.
When you stay in modest accommodation along the Camino, you usually have to wait for heating to kick in. Even in my hotel room I was still shivering.
What a pleasure to find a heated bar with menú del dia, even if I had to wait till eight thirty for the meal. And when it stood steaming before me, I was joined by my two young American friends, who’d been in a similar plight to mine through that miserable day.
Peace Corps members are portrayed in cliché as naive, earnest and soft-headed. But these two were a couple of toughies, of the best sort. Their two years had been hard spent in Albania, and both now spoke the language fluently. They were a fount of information unclouded by illusions…and laced with a sharp humour. They would be passing into their country’s diplomatic service, and I’d say their country had made a good choice.
So, a fine end to a foul day!