The day had just broken and I was still half asleep, the night had been warm but the sleep not deep, as the snoring of the fellow travellers, coughing and creaking of the bunk beds had kept me awake most of the night. But already there was movement, most of the travellers had already left the albergue, others were preparing to leave. There was no good morning, no smile on the faces of our fellow travellers. All were silent. So I murmured Vaya con Dios to the ones who still remained there as I knew that we will meet them again on the way to Santiago, many of them will be staying overnight at the same villages on the Camino.
We also got up and got ready. The travellers on the road can sleep only one night in an albergue as the place has to be made ready for the new arrivals. Every one must leave before eight 0'clock in the morning and new arrivals are not allowed to come until 2 or 3 0'clock in the afternoon. This is to ensure that the people on the road have indeed come by foot or bicycle and if some one turns up at eight or nine in the morning, it means that he has travelled by bus or motor cycle and can not be admitted as a legitimate pilgrim. Also the hospitalarios need time to clean up the place after the visitors have left.
The morning was sunny and bright, we left after having a cup of coffee and after walking about 500 metres through the village streets, we reached the village centre and entered La Conrada, the popular restauran. We saw that many of our fellow travellers were also sitting in the restaurant and enjoying their breakfast. The place was cheerful and every body seemed to be talking at the same time.
We sat down at a free table and ordered our breakfast of toasted bread, olive oil and fresh tomatoes, fresh cheese and two large cups of cafe con leche(coffee with milk). After enjoying our breakfast, we picked up our backpacks and continued our journey north. Our road map showed that the next stop of the day was a small village called Mañeru, situated at an altitude of 451 metres above sea level, about 16 kms. from Uterga which we had just left behind and about 30 kms from Pamplona, with a population of less than 400 inhabitants. It is situated on the Camino and the rivers Arga and Salado, run through its boundaries.
During the 13th century, Villa de Mañeru belonged to the Military Order of the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem. This Order was established by the Knight Templars in 1119 in Jerusalem, after the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099) in order to protect the increasing numbers of pilgrims coming to the Holy Land from Europe, from the robbers and infidels who infested the mountain passes and defiles of the Holy City. The religious fervour of the faithful, on the liberation of Jerusalem had increased and whether they came by road or by sea, they were pillaged and murdered by marauding Bedouin tribes.
The Villa Mañeru and Puente de Reina became the cross roads for pilgrims coming from Roncesvalles and Somport (Camino Frances), which merge with the routes from Aragon and Navarre. As the legend say "all roads lead to Rome", similar legend also says "From here all the routes to Compostela will be one".
The river Arga which runs through its boundaries always posed an impediment for the pilgrims, so under the auspices of Queen Munia, the wife of King Sancho the III of Navarre & Arragon, in order to facilitate the passage of the pilgrims, a Roman bridge was built in XI century. With the construction of the bridge the town of Puente de Reina, and surrounding villages saw a flourishing economy and higher influx of pilgrims and travellers from Europe and the regions of Spain, who passed through this route to Santiago de Compostela. The bridge is a beautiful Romanesque marvel, with six arches and from the hump in the middle of the bridge, the view of the village, its churches and other monuments is enchanting,
The region of Navarra is famous for its gastronomy and wine. Traditional dishes like Piquillo peppers can be found on the menu of every restaurant in Navarre, usually as an appetiser or first course.
Lodosa Piquillo Peppers and Artichokes
Piquillo peppers are roasted over coals, peeled and potted. They are served with thinly sliced garlic sauteed in olive oil until golden brown and then the peppers and their juice are added. They are left to simmer for a few minutes and allowed to sit for another few minutes before serving. You can also fill the peppers with boiled fish & shrimps, heat them in the oven for a few minutes and then serve.
. Red Bell Peppers fried in olive oil, fresh garlic, topped with oregano and coriander leaves.
Another regional dish is Pochas, a variety of white haricot or kidney beans, stewed and served with pickled green chillies (gindillas) or added to meat dishes. Chorizo, charcoal grilled T-bone or Sirloin steak,Chistorra the thin sausage which you will find in any butcher shop and which is added with vegetable stews are popular dishes.
Lettuce hearts cut lengthwise, with anchovies or ham, sprinkled with thinly sliced fresh garlic and vinaigrette sauce is another popular dish.
My favourite dish is Lamb al chilindrón, with chopped onion, fresh garlic & ginger and stewed on slow fire with white wine. I always add fresh ginger, red instead of white wine, saffron, a few cloves and one or two cardamom pods and stew it over low fire.
Bacalao al ajo-arriero (Cod fish) is another popular Navarre dish which is prepared with olive oil,tomatoes, piquillo peppers, onions & fresh garlic, green peppers and one whole dry chili, little sugar, white wine. I add small peeled potatoes too, and when the fish is nearly dry, they come out poached with succulent fish. Green olives and green pickled onions and chillies sprinkled over the fish is delicious. The best way is to soak cod overnight in vinegar and water, changing the water once or twice. Pat dry it before stewing it in slightly fried onions and garlic and other ingredients.Slightly shred the fish as it stews and simmers in the juices of garlic and onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle it with fresh coriander leaves and eat it with fresh country bread (pan de payes) and dry white wine.
We stayed at Casa Rural Isabel in Mañeru, an old three storey house, which had four guest rooms on the ground floor. The rate was 35 euros. The room we had was spacious, airy and full of light and we made ourselves comfortable, did some reading and took a short siesta.
There were three restaurants in the village and we chose one which had a charcoal grill Asador and ample sitting places. It was nice and cool. My wife had a plate of alcachofas and a plate of lettuce hearts with anchovies and sprinkled withfresh garlic, country bread with extra virgin olive oil and grilled tomatoes. I had lamb al chilindrón and we shared a plate of asperagus with mayonnaise. And we had a bottle of Inurrieta Norte,a red wine, light in colour and fresh,fruity and aromatic taste.
It was Romans who first introduced the grape in Navarra region in the 2nd century BC and started wineries (bodegas) there. In the Middle Ages, when Navarra was an independent kingdom and had close relations with France, and being the pilgrims route on the Camino de Santiago, the culturaVini flourished, and even in the guide books of 12th centuray, wine from Navarra was recommended to the pilgrims.
We had a pleasant day in Mañeru and in the evening we sat and watched TV, then to bed. We decided to start late the next morning and continue our journey. Our next stop was Estela-Lizarra,