Finding enlightenment in the face of extravagance.

Many pilgrims begin their Camino in search of enlightenment, and it’s easy to see why—the ancient road to Santiago is entwined with sacred history, celebrated artifacts and uplifting natural beauty. The pilgrimage can understandably leave a deep spiritual impression on walkers. However, after visiting an overly-excessive cathedral at the end of Day 6, I began to question humanity’s exploitation and manipulation of faith.

Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 6

The morning began with an inexhaustible wine tap and the distinct lack of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. While most early-risers respectfully sipped the local vino from their scallop shells, a few cheeky pilgrims shamelessly filled their spare bottles to make homemade sangria later that afternoon. It became immediately obvious that some Camino traditions would never work in Australia.

Navarrans inaugurated the Bodegas Irache wine fountain in 1991, 100 years after the winemaker was founded. Filling your scallop shell at the fountain has quickly become a fine tradition like the historic vines that surround it.
Guidebook

The day’s walk followed a channel between the Cantabrian and Basque Mountain Ranges. Initially, we hiked alongside vineyards—much like we’d seen on Day 5—then through expansive wheat plains and bountiful olive groves. The day’s agricultural snapshot showcased Spain’s typical kitchen staples: bread, olive oil and wine. I felt justifiably hungry for much of the journey.

Camino Vineyards Bodegas Irache

The vineyards of Bodegas Irache.

After leaving the alpine beauty of the Pyrenees, I didn’t expect to see much eye-candy from Span’s flat farmland—I was gleefully mistaken. On the day’s final 12-kilometre stretch from Villamayor de Monjardín, I felt compelled to drop my bag, assemble my DSLR and capture one of the most memorable views of the trail. As my fellow pilgrim’s marched on, I drank in the vista. It turned out my liquid breakfast wasn’t my only intoxicating indulgence on Day 6.

Camino Wheat Fields Pilgrims

As often happens on long-distance trails, nature’s epic landscapes jet-fueled the afternoon and we arrived in Los Arcos with much of the day left to enjoy; unfortunately, the town was largely lifeless. The sleepy settlement was well-kept but lacked the Camino’s typical Spanish vibrancy. The deserted streets and geranium-less window sills felt innocuous; I chalked the banality down to its remote location and checked in at Albergue La Fuente Casa de Austria.

After a shower and a snack, a handful of us ventured to the only locally-advertised attraction, the towering Iglesia de Santa María de los Arcos. The imposing cathedral appeared disproportionate amongst its modest surroundings; I couldn’t help but feel the township went unloved compared to this grandiose place of worship. One step inside confirmed those impressions.

Cathedral Los Arcos Camino Francés

The sobering effects of jarring contrast.

The inside of the cathedral was retina-tearingly extravagant; I could hardly believe the contrast from the underdeveloped outdoors. Rather than inspire, the church’s excessive decorations were skin-crawlingly jarring. On top of a complete mishmash of architectural styles, the walls were suffocated with gold plasterwork, elaborate paintings and expensive altarpieces.

I could only imagine the thousands of catholic tax dollars that had been shovelled into this building over the centuries. If even a tenth of this wealth had been channelled back into the community, instead of accumulating outrageous ornaments, the surrounding neighbourhood may not appear so impoverished.

Los Arcos Camino Francés

The featureless walls of Los Arcos’ pilgrim strip.

My thoughts eventually drifted to a walking tour I’d joined in Madrid 2 weeks earlier. The guide described in great detail the despicable practices that eradicated religious freedoms during the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition. Thankfully, we now live in a far greater multicultural world—the Camino is a shining example of this—but uncomfortable reminders of our immoral and grandiloquent past still remain. I finished Day 6 with more questions than answers; hopefully, Day 7 would bring further enlightenment.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

21.4km

Price

€10

Terrain

A few bumps through the morning’s pine forests and vineyards, but the last half of the wheat-filled journey gently meanders its way down to Los Arcos.