This morning I needed a little me time. I hung back after the rest of my friends had left the hostel so that I could walk alone. The sun was just coming up as I started my walk, the perfect time for some birding as I ascended the Alto de Perdon. The problem with group walking is that it is difficult to stop and observe, not wanting to hold others up.
After two days of traveling in a group, I relished the time on my own. I walked slowly, stopping to look at every bird I saw. A small raptor flew above me, catching the wind of the storm front that was moving in, chattering as it soared, diving, spinning, flashing white with each turn.
I had hemmed and hawed about whether to bring my binoculars, knowing I would feel frustrated and handicapped if I was unable to closely observe the avian life around me but not relishing carrying the extra weight. Although they are heavy, I haven’t regretted bringing them for a second. And in spite of the crappy app I downloaded to my phone, I’ve managed to identify a dozen new species, including some real stunners, like the white wagtail and cirl bunting.
As I crested Alto de Perdon, the sun lit up the cloud covered sky, a beautiful white against the storm.
I stopped a snap a few photos of the rusted metal sculpture depicting a group of medieval pilgrims, thankful that I am not traveling in wool cape and sandals as they did, then headed down the loose rocky slope.
A bit later, I caught up to Alvaro who seemed happy to have someone to walk with, having fallen behind the others as he walked slowly down the slope, favoring his knees. When the skies finally opened up a few minutes later and the rain poured down, we stopped for tea and coffee in the tiny town of Uterga.
Once the rain let up, we headed for Eunate, the site of the 12th century Church of St. Mary, an ermita (hermitage or small church outside of town) rumored to be built by the Knights Templar.
On our way out of town, I stopped in a doorway to put my camera away in the downpour. The Señora de la casa came out of the house and invited us into her garage to dry off. Once inside, she offered us beer, coke and water and then some manderin oranges. Alvaro chatted with her in rapid Spanish; I couldn’t keep up. She was kind, offering a kind of hospitality I have rarely encountered before. After a few minutes, we headed back into the driving rain, after a warm handshake and a kiss on each cheek from Lola.
The rest of the day was like a walk through time. It turns out that Alvaro is the President of the historical society (or the Spanish equivalent) where he lives and also wrote a book about the history of his hometown. He is a font of historical knowledge and anxious to share it. He pointed out details in various churches I never would have noticed, like the mythical creatures, animals and faces carved into the stone, or how the number of inset arches in a church entryway were a symbol of its regional importance.
In one town, we walked up to what I thought was a watering place for horses and he explained how it was once used as by locals to wash their clothes on the rough rocks. Later, he explained that the path we were on was an old Roman road noting the pattern of the inset rocks in the trail.
The day was long, wet, windy and cold, but I enjoyed every minute of it with a person who four days ago was a complete stranger. Buen Camino!
Today I walked 18.8 miles.