It was on a late Friday afternoon at the end of May 2014, when we arrived in Viana. We had been walking for seven days since we left Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France. The weather in that time had been quite ‘interesting’: torrential rain, sleet, snow, gale-force winds, flooded streams to cross, but then after Pamplona, perfect spring.
In my enthusiasm I was careless in the rock-strewn descent from El Alto del Perdón before Puente de la Reina, and ended the day with three nails on my numb foot bleeding and torn from the flesh and obviously going to be eventually shed. So having a rest day in Viana seemed like a great idea.
We did not wander far from the hotel until the next afternoon, when we explored the narrow little town, built in solid stone along the crest of a hill. There were a handfull of little bars and restaurants, all crowded. The streets were deserted and the shops closed for the afternoon break.
On a narrow street, parallel to the main street, and close to the cathedral we came across the bar Nagual. There was no sign. If it were not for the hint of a bright and verdant interior, one could be excused for having passed by unaware. But once enticed inside, the oak tree, the vine encircling the bar, the ceiling-high scene of a forest path and the bar laden with a wide selection of succulent tapas, alluded to a designer of excellence.
The owner was equally interesting with his black outfit, neatly trimmed black beard and his long salt and pepper hair tightly drawn back in a ponytail. When not serving customers he spoke to us of the interior design of his bar, of vegetarian food and of El Camino, which he had once completed. He showed us a shell tattoo on his wrist.
Later he told us of a bar in Logroño called La Taverna de Baco which had loads of Camino statistics on a wall. He was about to explain the significance of the name Nagual, when the bar filled and he was fully occupied. We left shortly after.
Two days later, when wandering around the narrow streets of the old district of Logroño, we were spoiled for choice for somewhere to have a glass of wine and some tapas; there were several streets of wall-to-wall bars and restaurants, most filled to capacity. In the end I chose one that was not so busy, but looked very inviting. It was not until we had sat down at a table and ordered that I noticed on the wall beside us a chart with a multitude of statistics of El Camino from 2009. And on the menu was the name of the bar – La Taverna de Baco. It was the very bar that we had been told of two days previously.
We probably stayed there for a couple of hours, snacking on various tapas and sipping on Rioja; Logroño is the capital of the Rioja region. Eventually I paid the bill and we were on our way to the door, when in walked the guy from the bar Nagual in Viana, together with an attractive woman and a young child. Although he obviously recognized us, he appeared to be not in the least surprised to see us there. We spoke for a short time and left.
It was not until after that the coincidences became apparent to me. We had walked into the bar without being aware that it was the one we had been told of. We had sat down at the only table that was next to the chart of Camino statistics, without initially noticing them. And to cap it all, as we were leaving, in walked the guy from Viana.
Coincidence? Perhaps, until recently, when I recalled the name of the bar in Viana, and did a search on the word ‘nagual’:
Nagual: a human being who has the power to transform spiritually or physically into an animal form. It originated in Mesoamerican cultures.
Was there something rather mysterious about the guy from Viana or have I just read too many of Paulo Coehlo’s mystic novels?