Canadians on the Camino, Day 4: Los Arcos and the martyrs

Mount Monjardin in Navarre's vineyard region
Mount Monjardin in Navarre’s vineyard region

(September 07)

As we leave Estella early this (Sunday) morning, we encounter various groups of young Spaniards who are staggering home, likely after partying through the night. They are really drunk but also friendly. Most of today’s 22 kilometre walk is through lovely vineyard country. Just west of Estella, we come upon a fountain, not of water but of free red wine provided by the company Bodegas Irache. It is a little early for that but we sample it anyway, although there is only a thin dribble of wine remaining. Perhaps those young people were there before us.

We walk among vineyards throughout much of the day with the conical peak of Mount Monjardin always present nearby and a dark line of higher mountains off in the distance. It is misty in the morning and we fear that it may rain but the day is mainly sunny. The temperature again reaches the mid-30s by early afternoon and we are dragging when we finally arrive in Los Arcos, population 1,200 and declining.

Austrian hostel

We have reserved in a privately-run albergue called La Fuente de Austria, which provides simple accommodation but is more than adequate. The place does seem to be run by Austrians or perhaps Germans. It has a patio where people hand wash their clothes and hang them to dry, and where they sit and visit at tables under umbrellas to protect against the sun. The Wi-Fi works, which we are finding is not always the case.

There are about 50 other people staying here. There are so many people on the Camino this September that accommodation in small places is completely overloaded. Fortunately, I now have a SIMM card in my phone and I am able to use it to book accommodation here. It helps that I can speak Spanish.

Martha and I are in a shared room with bunks but just three other people: a short but buff soldier from Germany and a married couple from Toronto. He has a painful case of tendinitis and cannot walk much so he has been travelling ahead each day by bus to book accommodation while she walks the trail.

I have had, shamefacedly, to withdraw my previous sarcastic comment about the snoring in the albergue in Estella. This time I awoke to having my foot tugged on by the Toronto woman, who told me to sleep on my side because my snoring was filling the room. Whoops.

Los Arcos and the martyrs

Los Arcos is old and down at the heel but even small and declining towns along the Camino have old and out-sized churches. The one here, Santo Maria de Los Arcos, was built in the 12th century with later embellishments. The interior is spacious, the altar is gilded with gold, and there is an impressive bell tower and a cloister to one side with a lovely garden and intricately carved arches.

We attend the pilgrim mass, along with a number of other people who we have encountered along the trail in the past few days. The priest talks in his brief sermon about the many foreign missionaries and martyrs who had originated from this region and he praises their efforts in spreading Christianity. I find that a particularly Eurocentric and Christocentric reading of history. I can’t help but recall Eduardo Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America, where he describes in gruesome detail how the Spanish church accompanied the conquistadores in their genocidal colonization of Indigenous people in Latin America.

A sudden storm

After the mass, we stop in the adjacent arcaded square for dinner and order from the Menu del Peregrino (Pilgrims’ Menu). We share a table with a young couple who work for a Christian Reformed church in New York State. While we are eating the storm clouds gather and it becomes windy enough that some of the table umbrellas blow over. With encouragement from the waiters, we haul our table under an arcade but just as we are doing so I am startled by the sound of shattering glass from a beer bottle that has blown off of a window ledge above and shattered on the cobblestone beside me. The storm and its dark clouds soon pass and we are able to explore the few narrow streets that Los Arcos has to offer.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament