Madelyn Given's view from one of the tunnels on the El Camino.

El Camino: Learning Spanish History while Hiking the Trail

The fifth day I was on the trail before 6 am and hiked in total darkness with only my headlamp until 7:10 am. In the early morning I spent a long time walking on a Roman road and thought of what it would have been like here so long ago. The stars were very bright and it was so beautiful and peaceful. It was cool walking but it was September 1st and by mid-day it would be very hot.

I went slow and steady and tried to adjust to the very hot days. Walking was hard on my feet; I developed blisters and made up my mind to cut back on my mileage—no more than 30 kilometers in one day. As I was heading west, I had to stop and turn around to see the sun rise over this beautiful land. Dawn is grand out in the open country!

It was a good hike to Lorca, the first village since I left the albergue, then on to Villatuerta and Estella. In Estella, there were still banners hanging across the streets from the recent Fermin Festival—a tradition dating back many centuries—when they have the running of the bulls down the old narrow streets. The bones of St. Andrew are in one of the local churches. The palace and the government buildings are typical of the grand Spanish style.

In the nearby town of Ayegui, I came to the Fuente del Vino, where there are two fountains, one for agua and the other for vino, supplied by the winemaker Bodegas Irache (established 1891). Since I began the el Camino, this place had been mentioned in conversations: it is the one and only place on the entire trail where you are offered free wine! No one is there to supervise, and when I arrived alone, no one else was there. Soon a few hikers caught up to me and we all toasted each other, “Buen el Camino!” I only wetted my lips; it was still morning and cold water tastes best while hiking. This was wine growing territory and I was walking through vineyards dating back to the twelfth century.

I walked a long track over rolling hills, crossing roads and going over medieval bridges, past farms and farmlands, over streams, past abandoned buildings, and under a high Roman aqueduct. The trail went under roads through tunnels decorated with graffiti, as you can see in the photo at the top of this blog post. I continued on to Azqueta. It was hot by this time of day and all up hill.

I met Kim, from Korea, on the trail and we walked together for the rest of the day. For miles and miles as I walked I could see an ancient fortress sitting at the top of a distant mountain. This was just above the town where I was headed: Villamayor de Monjardin. The castle had been captured from the Moors in the tenth century and Charlemagne had won a battle here.

When we entered Villamayor de Monjardin, Kim and I were so hot and tired that we took the first albergue we saw. It was a new, private, small one and cost a few euros more, but it was a welcome change from the big albergues. At evening Mass, one of the three young priests who I had met hiking on the trail asked me to do a reading. I declined because I was in shorts, as all my other clothes were in the washer or dryer at the albergue!

Carrying everything in a backpack for almost two months means you go light: you take only what you wear (several layers). In most cases it works out. Later that evening Kim and I walked about the town and enjoyed a meal in an outdoor café. Every day was eventful, fun, and a great learning experience.

(posted January 6, 2015)

One thought on “El Camino: Learning Spanish History while Hiking the Trail

  1. Diana

    I met you at an albergue in Villamayor de Monjardin. It was the Dutch Confraternity-run albergue. It had a meditation space which was very peaceful and quiet. There was a wonderful community dinner. It was one of my favorite albergues. I had a tough walk from Ciraqui on the old Roman road and was very tired.
    It was nice to meet a fellow traveler from Maine and I have since read your book.
    Take care.

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