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

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Water Into Wine



Many strange things happen on the Camino. But if I told you of a fountain gushing not water but wine you wouldn't believe me. Yet it's perfectly true. Just beyond Estella, at the Bodegas Irache, there's a tap dispensing free wine. The 1st photo shows my Spanish pilgrim friends Fernando and Tere there. Doing what you would do if you came across an absolutely free source of wine. We drank. Then we drank again. And again. We filled up plastic bottles with the stuff. We danced and pulled funny faces in front of a webcam. We took some very silly photographs. Later I heard of a German guy whose Camino stuttered, then came to a temporary stop here. He kept returning for the free wine. He was drunk for days.

Just beyond the wine fountain, in front of a lovely tree-lined square, stands the Benedictine Monastery of Irache. It had just opened so we went inside. I believe it's going to be turned into a posh hotel at some time in the future. Then it felt rather like a museum, but the adjoining 12th century Romanesque Church of San Pedro was peaceful and very beautiful.

Later we ate lunch and took a siesta on a rocky outcrop. Could life get any better than this? Probably not. Spain, sunshine, friends, a picnic spot miles from anywhere in a stunning landscape, bread, cheese, olives... and miracle wine, of course... My 2nd photo was taken somewhere near this little spot of heaven on earth.

Later still we passed olive trees and vineyards and pinewoods and red-earth farmland, and the countryside became ever more remote. There was not a sound, not a dwelling place, not a car - not even a tractor. A track led us sinuously through the Portillo de las Cabras, the Pass of the Goats. Eventually we reached Los Arcos. It had been a golden day.

Los Arcos has 4 pilgrim hostels. We stayed at the Albergue La Fuente. That evening some inebriated locals entertained us in a bar, showing us arcane card games and tricks with toothpicks. We left carrying bags full of the oranges they'd given us. The meal we ate that night in the albergue was memorable. Laurent acted as French cuisinier (what a surprise) and cooked dinner for us all. First bread and soup, then ham and cheese savoury pancakes. Afterwards pancakes filled with dark melted chocolate... Yum! And did I mention the wine..?

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