(The Luquin/Villamayor split, Navarra)
Walking along a path that is a 1000 years old invariably means that the course has been altered many times over the years, often resulting in a sudden choice for the unwary pilgrim: left or right?
Some have fully prepared and know which path to choose, others make a decision when suddenly confronted with the choice (and usually follow the crowd), whilst others fail completely to see the spilt and walk on, often ending up some place they weren't expecting i.e. lost!
DO YOUR PREPARATION
I test out many of the Apps on the camino, and one I particularly like is called Buen Camino. I like it because it advises you of such splits when you plan the next day's route, allowing an informed decision to be made.
The choice of path you take can have a big impact on your pilgrimage. I'll give you an example: shortly after leaving the Monastery of Irache (and wine fountain) in Navarra, you come upon one such split. It is well-signposted, but I have met one pilgrim who missed it completely. The 'main' path turns 90º to the right and heads (mostly along paved roads/paths) for Villamayor. If you don't see it and walk straight on, you end up in a village called Luquin, as indeed did she. I bumped into her when she arrived at the beginning of the village and saw that she was very worried.
"Isn't this Villamayor?" she asked me, clearly confused by the village sign stating otherwise.
"No," I answered, "You missed the split and took the wrong turn. Villamayor is about 4km over there."
She immediately deflated and looked like she might start crying. She was exhausted, starving, full of blisters, and ready for a shower, and had been hoping to be remedying these issues at this point in time. To have to now find the willpower to walk on for another hour or so was too much for her. Fortunately, she'd met somebody who could help her out quite quickly, and I dropped her off at the albergue in Villamayor.
HOW DO I CHOOSE?
No two routes are identical in length, so if you are struggling, choose the shortest. Some routes take in a city (like Estella), whilst the alternative bypasses the city. One route might take you along a scenic river walk, the alternative up a hill to a chapel. And of course, there are the monuments you want to see along the way, and accommodation choices, etc. The case above meant that the lady was a long way from her intended albergue for the night. And then there is your mode of transport: bike or foot?
There are numerous variations and therefore choices, but the important thing is to know what options each choice offers you, and preferably beforehand.
VILLAMAYOR OR LUQUIN?
I've walked and ridden the Villamayor section and know it well, with approximately 1.5km of it on the tarmac. The signpost clearly states that the Luquin route is shorter by 1km. Both paths rejoin shortly after Villamayor/Luquin, and head to Los Arcos 17km away.
The right path takes in two villages, whereas Luquin is just one. Each village is small and pretty, with an albergue or two, and one bar each. There is little to differentiate between them. I chose Luquin just to experience the route, and I'm so glad I did.
First, 95% of the pilgrims that day were taking the route to Villamayor (I have no idea why - probably just following the crowd). There were few walking to Luquin, which pleased me, as I wanted to be away from the crowds and noise.
I took the path and was led up into the woods on the side of the hill. With no other pilgrims around, I was surrounded by the wonder of nature and the sound of bird song. I slowed down to a very slow crawl, and meditated on God's splendour as I did so. It was one of the most magical moments of my week long walk across Navarra.
I was eventually passed by a handful of pilgrims, who were genuinely concerned for me due to my slow pace. My glowing face reassured them that all was well with me.
Please, spend a few minutes checking tomorrow's route for the splits, research them and make an informed choice, and maximise your camino experience!
PS: If you go to Luquin, the bar at the pool complex does the best tortilla I have ever tasted!
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”