Patches of snow, more hail, lost trail and stunning scenery
Another 9:00am start. Maybe we should just roll with the pace of Spain. Today, we are staying and the Casa Rural Mendiaxpe and the hostess’ eyes almost popped out when we suggested breakfast at 7:30am. She said that normally she serves it at 8:30 but she could do it at 8:00 as a compromise. She also recommended a restaurant for dinner tonight that might even open as early as 8:30pm. Spanish time is tough for pilgrims.
The walk today was a beautiful trail with a challenging 600m climb in the first 4km. After yesterday’s climb in the rain, this wasn’t too bad but Melanie needed to move a bit slower on that part. In the high mountain pass, there were lots of patches of snow around but never actually on the trail. On this beautiful sunny Saturday morning, there were hundreds of day walkers along most of the length of today’s trail – except when we needed them most.
As we walked along the rolling pass, we came to one point where we could choose to take a dirt road to the town of Araia or walk through the forest paths. I noticed that the GPS tracks we had took the road on the right but the orange arrows clearly pointed left and suddenly seemed numerous. In addition, we could hear lots of people that way. Despite my better judgement, I decided to follow the arrows. At first, it seemed like a good choice. There were arrows every 40 meters or so and we met more than a hundred day trippers / weekend hikers that were fun to chat with. One man we met has done five Caminos to Santiago, including finishing the Via de la Plata last week and planning the Caminho Portuguese in August. I noticed after a while that the orange arrows disappeared but there was never a turn off and we were still on the red and white blazes. We kept on going, past a very cool San Adrian’s chapel in a cave / tunnel under the mountain.
It was at that point that we finally asked someone for directions. We were told that we needed to head back up the mountain at least five kilometres. Oh crap. How was that possible. We would be going against so many orange arrows! After a quick cursing of my stupidity, we started climbing back up but after only 1.5km, we found a sign a bit off the track that directed us to Araia. Was this the way we were supposed to go? There were no orange arrows but it looked like we had 5.7km to go over another peak. One woman confirmed the trail but warned us we needed to follow the yellow and white blazes and turn right “someplace”.
It turned out to be a bit of a nightmare to follow the right blazes and we obvious missed the right turn too. We decided to follow our guts and GPS map to get us to the right place. That and a lot of luck got us on the right track again and we eventually followed the right trail into town. Fortunately, the Casa Rural was close to the entrance and a kind lady guided us to it. It only began to rain and hail lightly during this final descent thankfully.
For those following us NEVER go off the GPS trail. I won’t again despite the fact that we met some great people and saw more stunning scenery. Without the luck (grace?) of accidentally finding a marked trail to Araia, we might still be blazing our own trail over a mountain now.
One final note for the night is that our hostess has a cousin who owns a bar in town. Naturally, she recommended his place but said that we may only get pintxos (tapas) until 8:30 or 9:00pm when they would start serving dinner. She said that the bar was about a kilometre into town, straight down the road and just behind the church. As simple as those directions were, we still worried we were not going the right way. We asked a couple of women where the church was. They each scolded us for being late for mass but were kind enough to send us the right way. You got to love Spain.