I got up at 6.30 not at all sure how far I would get but determined to leave Los Arcos. Sansol was the nearest village, 7 kms away. Then there was Torros del Rio a mere half a kilometer further on. If I didn’t stop there, the next place was Viana a further 11.3kms on. I had no illusions I could make it to Logroño which would be 9.3km further than Viana.
My walking speed was worse than the average person with a zimmer, but at least I was moving, and passing the odd yellow arrow now and again. It took a while to accept that everyone else on the Camino was going to steam past me, but I really had no option but to lump it. The poppies along the route were as abundant as ever and I head-sung Auld Lang Syne in the hope that it might awaken the sympathy of the Scottish Sage and result in a helpful spell being sent in the direction of my ankle.
To be honest it didn’t seem to be working, but I eventually limped into Sansol where a group of French women were singing rather pleasantly outside the village church. There was a tiny shop which also served coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and croissants, so I was pretty happy to spend 20 minutes sitting there in the company of someone called Graham from Melbourne.
I had no problem making it the extra half kilometer to Torros del Rio, but then I had a problem. I know I said I wasn’t going to be a control freak and phone ahead any more, but what if there were no beds left in Viana? It was going to be dodgy enough getting there without finding no room at the inn. I started phoning. Nobody picked up.
It was only 10am so I decided to go for it. Worst case senario would surely be that the church albergue would have to let me sleep on the floor. Surely they wouldn’t leave me on the street with my pilgrim’s credential and all that. I was stopping every 30 minutes to rest my ankle, and each time I tried phoning again. No result.
At a small church in the middle of absolutely nowhere I caught up with the 7 French singers again. Although they were as scruffy and dusty as me, with the usual array of Decathlon gear, the sound they were making was simply serene. It’s purity reminded me of the girl in the film of Phantom of the Opera (the Charles Dance one, not Andrew Lloyd Webber) and I stayed to listen to them until they packed up and hurried on to the next church. I’d given up with Auld Lang Syne and had tried to give Beatrix Potter a try just in case that was the way to the white witch’s heart, but the only tune I could remember was the one Squirrel Nutkin sang, which was highly irritating – even the small pieces I could remember. So it was good to be distracted by ideas of Phantom of the Opera instead, and I crawled along head-singing that for quite a while. Every so often I rang all the albergue numbers again, but still nobody picked up.
If you’ve ever read Laurie Lee’s “As I walked out one summer morning” you may remember he seemed to walk the length of Spain eating plums, now I understand how. The number of wild plum trees is phenomenal and they are laden with young fruit. There are also innumerable almonds, apples and other fruit trees, in fact even today it feels as if it would still be possible to survive as Laurie Lee did back in the 1930s. I passed regular round stone huts, a couple of meters across at most. We are almost in Rioja country and I’m told they are something to do with the wine process, but I took note of where they were just in case I needed them for the night!
My regular half hour phoning was still going nowhere and by this time I could feel my foot swelling in my boot and I was well out of my comfort zone. As I staggered up yet another steep hill, I came across a piece of A4 paper weighted down with stones, it said “Amor”. A few meters further on was another, “Paz”, then “Union”, as I crested the hill there were a group of tents between two fields and a number of young people handing out water and fruit, and a man in his 20s strumming a guitar which was missing a string. A five year old girl (so she told me) offered me a biscuit and a stamp with a heart on it. “We give everything away for free, you don’t have to pay,” she said solemnly.
“That’s very kind of you,” I replied. “Why are you doing that?”
“Because we love everyone and want peace in the world.”
I thought I’d stepped right back into the 60s. It was wonderful, there were young people from the USA, Germany, Portugal, Brazil and Chilli, to name just the ones I spoke to. As I left, I fought the urge to phone all the albergues again. I had said I was going to trust that everything would be OK, so that’s what I should be doing instead of spending half the walk stressing over where I would sleep. Peace, love and all that, plus a bit of spirituality from the French singers, it had to be worth a try. I walked the final few kilometers surrounded by the most beautiful bright blue butterflies.
When Viana church spire hove into view I remembered a couple of lines from a Spike Milligan poem I’d read as a small child: “He put on a spurt, by god how it hurt, the soles of his feet caught fire …” Admittedly my “spurt” was similar to the difference between a snail and an aggitated slug, but the feet certainly felt firey! Hobbling up the hill there seemed to be a horrible number of pilgrims about and they didn’t look as if they were going on to Logroño.
“Do you have a bed?” I asked the harrassed-looking woman in albergue Izar.
“Si,” she replied, “a party of nine have just said they’re not coming. Honestly! How am I meant to make a living when people do things like that?”
It was on the tip of my tongue to say, “Peace and love bro, the universe has this, tranquilo!” but I didn’t reckon she was quite in the mood.