Day 9 - Logrono to Najera

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , La Rioja,
Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 9 - 10th Sept - Logrono to Najera
Kms Walked Today: 30.1 km
Kms Walked in Total: 195.1 kms
Kms to Go: 595.0 kms
Blisters: same ones I had but they seem to be adapting to the foot and I stopped noticing them.
Pains: none
I rose as early as my eyes would allow me to open them, which was 5.30am. The great thing about being in a pension is that you can move around as much as you need, and make noise to speed things up.
The pension was only a five minute walk from the Camino, which should have given me a good advantage over anyone staying at the albergue (at the other side of the city).
So I chomped on my breakfast and moved quickly along the well lit streets of Logrono. The indications were very clear, turn right, reach a park, cross the railway line over the pedestrian bridge, and straight from there onwards.
The first two parts worked, and then I bumped into a group of three pilgrims (an Australian chap and two Irish girls), who were walking in the opposite direction. They were looking for the bridge also. I led them through a park which had the Santiago shell signs on the floor, until we reached the steel pedestrian bridge...but it was blocked for maintenance!
One would think that with three hundred foreign pilgrims passing each day someone would have thought of putting a sign, even if it was just a handwritten note. Not a chance.
Luckily there was a homeless guy lying on a bench close to the bridge. He had a couple of bags with his earthly belongings and lay awake looking at us. He realised what the issue was and pointed us in the right direction.
There started a long loop which would add 30 minutes and about 2 kms to our total walk of 30...not good news as a start.
I had a chat along the way with the Australian (as the two Irish girls dropped back, and they sounded as quite a nasty couple judging by their long, unfriendly faces). He turned out to be a Catholic priest from Melbourne who always wanted to do the Camino since he visited Santiago ten years back.
"Padre Oz" as I have him down on my list was disappointed at the lack of spiritual colour of the Camino, and agreed it was all one big rat race to get to the albergues.
He was also not fully enjoying the Spanish food, to which I was happy to hear that it was mainly due to a language limitation.
What surprised me was that Padre Oz had not visited any of the Cathedrals on the way, and admitted that he was late to an albergue once as they had over extended their stop at a bar, where they had been drinking with locals (him and the Irish girls). I guess he had reached the conclusion that if they couldn't beat the rat race, they would join it!
I left Padre Oz behind as he slowed down to wait for the "Irish Long Faces", and walked into the park of Grajera in the outskirts of Logrono. Its quite a large natural area, and as such had no artificial lights, which meant the head lamp had to come out. (Note to self: buy some batteries for that head lamp soon. You are using it a lot and you are going to run into trouble soon!)
It was very dark even with the moon at nearly half of its size, and fog drifted from the lake of Grajera adding to a spooky effect. Luckily the path was wide and easy to follow so I managed to advance at a good speed.
The rain from the day before intensified the scent being released by the trees and plants along the park. It was quite a "sniffing" adventure, trying to detect if I recognised any of the smells...I failed miserably and all I could conclude was "chestnut", which I'm sure there wasn't any of.
My company until the sun came out was creatures great and small, in the form of ducks and mosquitoes! Somehow in the dark there seems to be no pilgrims, and the moment the sun rises they appear from under the rocks and behind the trees. Today was no exception and soon the path was full of pilgrims behind and in front.
However I was quite relaxed with regards to getting to Najera as I had booked a bed in a private albergue the evening before. My only rush was to make sure I could get an acceptable bed.
The pilgrim "train" arrived at Navarrete at 9am after a good 12km walk. I knew perfectly who was in front, and who behind me as it was obvious along the long path. So I was utterly disgusted when the chap behind me with long grey trousers appeared in front. What a slimy cheat! He has skipped Navarrete and its medieval main street, and walked along the national road.
I cursed him and wished him a painful blister. What's the point in all this rat race if people are going to cheat. I was very close to stopping the "Guardia Civil" (Military Spanish Police), and to snitch on him...but I decided to elevate the injustice to the Path Gods instead. Surely they will deal with him.
It was at the exit of Navarrete that I met an Italian pilgrim with whom I had shared some kilometres in the previous days. The last time I saw him was at Villamayor de Monjardin, where all the albergues had been full and I was forced to march to Los Arcos.
He had decided to stay and try to beg for a mattress or even a bench. He was told to move on even though he was exhausted, and ended sleeping on the floor outside the church. He advised that they were no longer opening the "polideportivos" (public gymnasiums and sports facilities) as the summer season was over for them.
The guide book had advised that in case of excess of pilgrims they would open the polideportivos for people to sleep on the floor. He failed to mention anything about the months, although I won't blame him for this as there seems to be very little information generally about what opens when.
Something that was also not open at Navarrete was any of its bars. One would again expect that in a country dying for income, the bar owners would take advantage of about three hundred clients at 9am (its not even early!). But not a single one was open on a Monday for a coffee...Crisis? What Crisis?
One of the things I have noticed is that there is a substantial amount of rubbish along the Camino. A lot of it certainly originates from the pilgrims (dirt sods), and the rest from the locals (usually full car loads of it). There are tissues, water bottles, cans, and a long etcetera of products which obviously became too heavy to carry once consumed.
Thirty kilometres is a long walk no matter how you look at it, especially if the scenery is just vineyards and roads. I'm hoping that there will be some change soon, but I fear that the Castilian plateau will be even worse than this part.
No doom and gloom though, there is always the radio and chatting with others. There is about six people I tend to keep bumping into, and its always interesting to see where they slept, or if they slept at all.
After twenty-five kilometres I had to applaud the cleverness of two local businesses, who had sprayed their adverts under the motorway bridge where all the pilgrims have to walk through.
One was "massages", and who would say no to that after the walk. Had someone being there to do the massage I would have fallen for it myself. The second one was even better "taxi" and the phone number.
I arrived around noon at Najera, and navigated my way to the bar next to the monastery where I had booked a bed.
They took me along to a modern building a few metres away and showed me round the facilities. I was the second one to arrive, and there was only twelve beds in total, with only 4 in the room I chose.
I quickly spread my stuff to conquer some territory, and built my textile wall with two t-shirts. It was a fresh room, not much light and hardly any people. As a plus the other person that had arrived was a Canadian lady in her early sixties, so snore factors should be low. Would it be the first night of good sleep at an albergue?
It certainly felt like luxury compared to the three hundred pilgrims packed in a shoe box of other days (7 euro).
The only disadvantage was that it was one toilet and shower for twelve. However, by showering on arrival and a couple of well programmed bowel movements, I should have no problems (I won't go into more details on the latter - but what's a story without mentioning a pooh or two?)

After a brilliant shower I set off to the local tapas street, bought the newspaper, and indulged in no other than a delicious fresh mixed salad, and a "bocatin" of scrambled eggs with red tasty! Lunch of champion pilgrims.
Najera is not exactly a huge place. Its medieval part, monastery and church, divided from the expanding new area by the River Yalde. So I walked around the new and old areas after lunch, and discovered what really has been an amazing historical jewel - the monastery of Santa Maria la Real.
Now, everyone has probably worked out that I'm not a habitual church goer, nor do I tend to include religious places in my tours. However, there was something about this one that created some curiosity, and, given there was nothing else to walk around in the town I went in. I even paid the entrance fee...3 euros (the horror!).
The monastery developed next to a cave where the leyend states that in 1055, Don Garcia was led to a statue of the Virgin of the Rose. Since then the building developed and received different influences and visitors (including invading forces).
The interior is a jewel of architecture and history, with a substantial number of Kings, Queens and Princes burried there. What really amazed me was the "Silleria del Coro" (Choirs Seats), which are entirely made of wood and depicted a great number of themes. The guide explained some of them such as the capital sins, the different races know at the time, earth and heaven, amongst many others. Each theme had its character on a chair: leprosy, death, glutony, asians, moors, etc.
This was already good enough, but just when we were about to leave, an English old chap whom I had seen a few times, approached the guide and asked if he could sing.
I thought that he was just joking around but he suddenly started singing in latin in a low voice which made my arm hair stand up. He had a great voice. Everyone listened in awe except a Spanish chap who kept saying "jo'er que bien canta" (shit, he sings very well) to the general annoyance of everyone. He was told to be quiet and our gentleman sung on, with lots of clapping from the twenty tourists present.
I later had a chat with him, and he revealed he was an ex-monk who had been part of their choir in their fraternity.
One final thing to notice is that most of the statues are missing their heads. During the 1809 War of Independence, the Napoleonic soldiers used them for target practice in the monastery. The bullet wholes are clearly visible on one of the cloister walls.
As an end to my first week on the Camino, I again walked around the town and examined the different "pinchos" (small tapa) in each bar in the centre. Najera had a "pinchos" competition all month, and each bar presented their competing "pincho" for everyone to see. The fun of rural life!
With all this "activity" I had dinner next to the river with one of my books (asparagus from Rioja, and Tuna calzone (their name...I would have called it "empanadilla")).
I was in bed by 9pm and fell asleep soon after. Not fifteen minutes had passed before I was woken up by the Canadian woman...with sweet and sharing mega-snores!!
So I was in the smallest dormitory yet, only 3 people, one free bed (first time yet), darkness, freshness, no street noises...and a mamouth was sleeping inside! A great combination of good luck, destroyed in one breath and nostril movement.

It was then, that my new musical hit developed:

"Dear Santiago what have you done?,
You have attracted lots of women and more than a nun,
During each night I think of you more,
Why do all the women on the Camino snore?
All together now...Saaaaantiago
Ooooh what have you done!
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