Today was a long gallop over rolling farm country from last night´s stop in Estella to this place, Los Arcos. Estella seemed at first glance to be yet another rural village, but that was an illusion. We approached the town through the old medieval bit which comprised the usual few narrow streets of ancient buildings, but stuck onto the side of the old town was a small modern city about the size of Invercargill or New Plymouth. Walk a block and move 5 centuries. We walked through to the city square, dominated by a large church and surrounded, like Piazza San Marco in Venice, by a cloister. It was 4:30 and the place was all locked down for the siesta except for a cafe which supplied us with cafe con leche grande - a sort of latteish capuccinoish concoction which is sort of OK. We sat in the late afternoon sun and peace until the bells rang at 5:00 and suddenly the whole town burst into life. Doors opened, children tumbled into the streets, lights went on in shops, noise started from everywhere. It was as though the prince had just kissed sleeping beauty. Then back to the Albergue to cook dinner and sleep.
Accomodation for the Camino runs on several levels. At the most basic level are refugios, which are just shelters. These are not common anymore, but there are still a few to be found. They are free or very close to it and give you a roof and often not much more. Next step up the ladder are albergues. These are basic hostels and are found in practically every village. They offer beds in bunkrooms of various sizes ( our smallest bunkroom so far has had 4 beds. Our largest, 125. They offer showers, toilets and sometimes but not always cooking facilities. Most have a coin in the slot internet point. They are run as charities by various camino societies or by religious groups, and the nightly tariff is pretty minimal, usually around 5 euros give or take a euro or two. All of ours have been clean and well maintained and the price sometimes includes a very basic breakfast. Mind you, the Spanish seem to be even worse at breakfast than the italians, so those of us used to a British or American style breakfast are in for a bit of a shock. One of ours was run by the Order of St. John which was founded in the 12th century specifically to give hospitality to pilgrims so they worked pretty hard to make us welcome and to look after us. There are privately run albergues, which are often attached to bars or restaurants, which offer slightly better facilities (smaller rooms) for a slightly higher fee. Next step up are hostels and hotels which run the gamut all the way up from 30 a euro a night bed and breakfast to luxury places costing the usual arm and leg. Birds of a fether and all that, you find people tend to seek out the same sort of accommodation night after night, so you tend to see the same faces at each stop.
At each stopping place your credential is stamped. The credential is just a folded card with your name on it and a large space for stamps. Each albergue or shelter or hostel has its own individualised stamp and some of them are very pretty indeed. Many of he religious sites along the way also stamp your credential. The stamps are dated and at the end of the camino your credential will be inspected, and dates examined to make sure you haven´t cheated on the journey.
This albergue is in Los Arcos, a rough and ready working rural town with a sort of Taihape air about it. Except that in Taihape they don´t play hymns from the loudspeakers in the church tower to call the people in from the fields for siesta. Not that I´ve heard of, anyway.