Vilabertran is a small village with a population of 913, about two kilometers (a mile and a quarter) from Figueres, if you take the direct path – an old dirt road where vehicles rarely pass. This old dirt path is part of the Camino de Santiago, known in France as the Chemin du Saint Jacques, and in Catalunya as the Camí de Sant Jaume.
The Camino is not a single track that begins in France, enters Spain at Roncesvalles, and ends in Santiago de Compostela as many people believe. Pilgrims in the middle ages would come to Santiago from all over the Christian world and that world was extensive. Those who arrived from the east of France, via Narbonne, or via the Mediterranean would have walked along my little path, now marked with the well-known scallop shell.
Vilabertran caught my interest soon after I moved to Figueres because (1) getting there provides an easy, pleasant walk through farmland, and (2) once you get there you can explore the beautiful medieval complex of Santa Maria, a church, monastery, and cloister dating from the 11th century.
Lately I’ve taken to walking there often with two friends from my doggy group, one of whom informed me that last year he came one evening to hear a group of Mariachis (who, he said were pretty bad). It turned out that Mariachis were also on this year’s program, so we decided we would go and that the doggy group should also come.
There were four of us (and four dogs, although my little one stayed at home) on the first ever doggy group nighttime walk to Vilabertran. The Mariachis weren’t as bad as we had feared, perhaps because we had fortified ourselves with wine and beer before the performance. However, my glass of wine did nothing to alleviate the discomfort I felt sitting on the grass for two hours. A week later, my neck and back still hurt.
If Mariachis are not popular among dog-lovers, Country music is even less so, and for the second ever nighttime walk to Vilabertan, there were only two of us (and one dog). This time, however, the performance took place in a plaza where there were two bars so we could sit in chairs and sip white wine and eat roasted red peppers stuffed with brandade of cod. This was much better.
What was surprising was the fact that about a quarter of the audience was up doing line dancing. I’ve never seen anyone doing line dancing until I came to Catalunya. Is it is as popular in the U.S. as it is here?
I’ve done the walk to Vilabertran countless times – many times alone, and lately with company. But it is notably different when you walk at night. In spite of the fact that the path is not lit, for the most part you can see enough not to fall over (or plunge into a puddle left from the last rain – puddles shine in the dark!). I thought I’d be groping but in fact I could walk fairly comfortably for most of the way. Going there in twilight you get a sense of tranquility that you don’t get during the day. Although you can’t see much of the surrounding fields, coming back in the dark you get a good whiff of the aromas -- fennel, mint, among others -- that are enhanced by the night air.