For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 25 January 2008

Stars, Stones And A Doorway

From Puente la Reina to Estella (meaning 'Star', which recalls 'Compostela' - or 'Field of Stars' - the goal of my journey, and 'The Milky Way' - another name for the Camino) it's only 21 km. During the morning there were a couple of heavy rain showers which turned the clay path into a mudslide. After 8 km I met up with a French pilgrim called Laurent in the hilltop village of Cirauqui. I'd seen him briefly before in a shop in Puente la Reina, where we'd introduced ourselves.

Laurent proved to be a uniquely interesting person and the most stimulating company. We were to walk together on-and-off for the next week. He lived in Provence and had taken the pilgrim route from Arles to Puente la Reina via the Col du Somport. What was remarkable was that he had deliberately decided to rely on free, spontaneously given hospitality for the 1st part of his journey. It was a kind of spiritual experiment to test out the true meaning of the word 'hospitality' and the generosity of strangers. He had managed OK - but had lost weight! He had found people on the whole very kind, but sometimes even priests would turn him away...

Laurent was a stone mason by trade. He sold commercial pieces over the Internet, but his true passion lay in creating the individual, non-commercial sculptures he would carve and keep himself - for the love and freedom of it, and for his own personal satisfaction. He had a need to follow his own artistic calling rather than the dictates of anyone's commission. He had spent an ascetic year preparing for the Camino in complete isolation, working without distractions on a pilgrim sculpture in his studio. He told me his grand project for the next 10 years of his life (he was in his late 40s) was to restore a beautiful but ruined stone chapel near his home. More of Laurent to come, for he was the most knowledgeable and unusual person, with a real commitment to the spiritual side of life...

We passed olive groves and asparagus beds. We ate the few sweet remaining grapes left on the vines. We picked almonds. They were soft and delicious. When we reached Estella we found a lovely, historic little town built on a meander of the river Ega. The most tasteful Christmas decorations festooned the streets. I realised with a start that Christmas was fast approaching...

The striking doorway in the photo was taken in the village of Maneru between Puente la Reina and Estella.

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