El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

Navarra

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Los Arcos to Logroño

20 May 1993 and 5 June 2002

From now on the pages of my website may seem a bit disjointed. I have kept the structure of my journey as it was in 1993 but, in 2002, I got out of phase and took some shorter stages. This was because of extremes of weather, injuries to some of our party and the way in which the accommodation filled up so early in the day. I must also confess that trying to find a bar in which to watch World Cup football matches also had an effect on some stages.

1993. LOST. This was a good day for walking, cool and overcast and the rain held off until I reached Logroño. Just before the village of Sansol I was overtaken by Salvador from Madrid and, when the Camino crossed a main road, he strode briskly ahead instead of turning right down a farm track. I blindly followed him and it was some time before I realised that ours were the only footprints on the muddy track. I called him back for a conference and comparison of guides and we decided that, since the track was going in roughly the right direction, we would continue until we found a turning. ANOTHER MISTAKE. The track gradually bent away from our intended route and we were soon miles astray in the countryside. There were wonderful views on either side of the ridge but none of where we wanted to be.

Some farm hands working in the asparagus fields pointed us along a track in the right direction but this track also veered off the route. I set my compass for due west and we set off across ploughed fields, fording streams until we came within sight of Viana.

We had wasted over two hours and were soaking wet from the streams and knee high corn. I rested in the shade of the church while Salvador took both our credenciales to the Ayuntamiento to obtain stamps.

Viana

Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, was killed here in 1507 while trying to storm the town. Originally he was buried beneath the altar here but, so bad was his reputation that, in 1527, his body was dug up and reburied in unconsecrated ground outside the church so the inhabitants could walk over his grave. His remains were finally moved back inside the church in March 2007, the 500th anniversary of his death.

From Viana it is only 9km downhill to Logroño but I was rather tired and stopped halfway there in the shade of a pine wood to watch a pair of marsh harriers patrolling the reedbeds of the nearby Lagunas de las Cañas.

On the way into Logroño I stopped for water and a chat with Señora Felisa who for many years has greeted pilgrims entering her city. More about her later.

I arrived at the refugio just after 3pm but it did not open until 4. Several other pilgrims I recognised were already there so we lay on the shady side of the pavement, outside the main Police Station. The police were obviously used to this because they, and their dogs, just stepped over us as they went about their business.

The refugio was only three weeks old with modern facilities. I was in a dormitory for 24 and there were two others of a similar size. After settling in I went with a couple of the lads to buy food and other things. The lads weighed themselves to see how much weight they had lost already. The loose end of my belt was certainly longer than when I started.

Back at the refugio Marvi from Minorca had taken charge of the kitchen and had made a large pot of vegetable soup for starters. Manuel from Andalucia rummaged about in the kitchen cupboards to see what previous occupants had left and made his own version of soup. It seemed to consist of garlic with spaghetti, garlic, chicken stock and more garlic.

Viana

2002. It had rained all night and our laundry was still wet. Our little group set off about 6.30am when the rain stopped but it soon recommenced. I was very careful not to go astray this time and we were soon able to stop for coffee and cakes in Torres del Rio (not much of a river). The café was decorated with Templar emblems in keeping with the octagonal shape of the local church.

We then walked about 10km along muddy tracks and were ready to stop by the time we reached Viana. After an hour’s rest in a bar the refugio opened and we claimed our bunks and hung our still wet laundry in the drying room.

We showered and changed into whatever we had that was dry and went straight back for a meal in Bar Pitu. There were now eight or nine of us in our “family” and some of us would stick together all the way to Santiago.

The refugio was in an old building next to a ruined church. The dormitories were very crowded with triple decker bunks close together. Judy, from Switzerland put me in the bunk above her so she could nudge me if I snored (snorkelled is her version) but she seemed to be up half the night stopping other people snoring. Jann and Vicky went downstairs and slept on the mess room table to avoid the noise.

We were up early after a disturbed night and went for breakfast of fruit juice and biscuits in the mess room. Jann and Vicki set off first and Judy and myself arranged to meet them for a proper breakfast in Logroño.

Señora Felisa was on duty when we passed her house and we stopped for water and figs with her. Sadly she died later that year but I understand that her daughter Maria has taken over her role.

Felisa
Señora Felisa Rodriguez Medel.
3rd November 1910 – 20th October 2002

For over 20 years Señora Felisa would sit outside her house on the Camino as it entered Logroño. She had a shady spot surrounded by her cats and dogs and would offer cold water and figs to passing walkers. Eventually she had made her own stamp for the credencial proclaiming “Figs, Water and Love”. She died a few days before her 92nd birthday and will be missed.

When Judy and I arrived in Logroño we were unable to find Jann and Vicky. (I had the only mobile phone in our group, a bit like the sound of one hand clapping.) After a breakfast in the Plaza de Mercado we set off after them and caught up with them in the park by the lake together with a couple of German pilgrims, Lars and Peter, who would accompany us for the next few days.