Day 10 - Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

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

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Where I stayed
Cofradia de Sto Domingo

Flag of Spain  , La Rioja,
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kms Walked Today: 21.0 km
Kms Walked in Total: 216 kms
Kms to Go: 574 kms according to book. 550kms according to local tourism. Where did the 27 extra go?
Blisters: none
Pains: none

Reflections: "If you want to start early in order to guarantee a bed in the next place, look for, or book in advance, a private albergue. They normally don't have start time (although they do insist on 10pm lights off). Private albergues do not tend to cost more than the parish or municipal ones - going rate is between 7 and 10 euros the night.
Some of the religious ones, or pilgrim associated ones, do not set a price, and just request a "donation".

It was a short day walk today with only 21kms. It sounds like nothing now compared to other marathonian walks. A few months ago I would not have considered anything above 15kms as "short"...but there you go.

As I had no limitation as to what time I could set off I just decided to start walking whenever I woke up. That was at 5am.

With the motto "the early pilgrim gets the bed", and also making sure I was the first one to use the only toilet, I was up and walking by 5.30am.

It was probably the best nights sleep up to now. A combination of fresh air, only two others and my "World excluding" t-shirt curtain. I started wearing earplugs as the Canadian was a hard snorer, but have learnt that I'm carrying two types of them.
The white ones are softer and don't quite do the proper job of eliminating most of the noises. They also have an added technological feature which is that they "self launch" after a couple of hours. That means I usually wake up with an earplug stuck up my nose, eye or worse.
The orange ones are obviously made for war zones. The move in deeper than the white ones and seem to shut off all noise. This has the benefit of eliminating the annoying nasal music of others, but it also two rather weird effects: firstly it feels like you are poking your brain from both sides, and secondly you hear you heartbeat very vividly - rather like a disco session.

But at least I didn't have to suffer the other's noise as, Rafael from Valencia (alias "No way I'm going to stop talking ever, ever, ever"). He slept next to another grizzly bear, and kept trying to wake him up by whistling - a technique I haven't heard of before. He would whistle loudly to the other bloke and then say "que cruz!" (literally "what a cross", or "what a weight I have to suffer").

I left Najera and entered the vineyard sided path in absolute darkness. No one ahead or behind that I could see. I had my head lamp but could more or less see the way so would only put it on if I wasn't entirely sure.

I was a fantastic two hour walk until Azofra. The moon was out, the sky full of very visible stars, and the usual sounds of crickets and other early morning creatures.

The only disconcerting thing (apart from the cat eyes that pop up in these walks) is the possibility of missing a yellow arrow or shell. The most frustrating thing is to take a wrong path and end up in a different village.

There was quite a scary moment about thirty minutes into the walk. I detected something darker on the path so switched my lamp on. I tought I recognised a walking boot, but it wasn't until I was next to it that I was able to confirm it (that sort of darkness!).

I thought someone must have lost it and expected them to be walking back sooner or later. However, about 20 metres ahead...another boot! Now, if you place yourself in the circumstances of where I was and how much available light I could make use of, you can excuse my horrid thought that the next thing I would bump into would be a corpse. Sorry, nothing as exciting as that. Nothing else appeared, and I concluded someone must have given up on the boots (which didn't seem very old), and thrown them along the path. I do confess the next 10 minutes I kept my head lamp on!!

I could actually already see the lights of Burgos in the distance. At only 89kms from here the city illumination rises to quite a height. Turning round I could also see Logrono's illumination...nearly half way in between both.

So, I was at Azofra after about 6kms just before 7am. Halleluyah there was someone wanting to make money, and serving breakfasts. I decided it was a great place to do so, and give myself some minutes so the sun rise could take effect.

I have been walking for over a week now, but its still a "something different" feeling to have breakfast in the middle of a small village street before 7am, when its still dark and there are dozens of pilgrims walking along slowly. Very enjoyable.
Mega sized croissant and big coffee: 2,50 euros.

The cafe was packed, and I chatted with a few known faces (the singing monk, a lady from Gran Canaria, and the one armed girl from England). Apparently everyone had a similar scary experience with the abandoned boots.

Without too much delay, I restarted my walk, and to push my robot legs a bit I switched on the iPod. There was nothing entertaining on the radio: just news on the terrible financial state of the Spanish economy, and how a Vegas styled investment in Madrid was the solution promised by politicians. I could have been out of the country twenty years and heard exactly the same news back then! The other radio channels were possessed by so called journalists who spend most of their day talking about celebrities, their breakups, romances and whether the nose operation of Princess Leticia is considered as positive by Spaniards!

So with radio not been an option today, I switched to my own stored music. I usually just hot the random shuffle button which mixed the ten or so groups and singers I selected for this walk. I performed the same procedure as usual and it was one of those moments where the song seems to connect directly with what you are doing and where you are. I had to sing along and play it a couple of times before moving on.

I'm sure the pilgrims a few metres back must have been bemused by my little hops and rythmic movement of my arms.

The song was by that eighties Scottish group Marillion, with the interesting title "Freaks". I might be missing a couple of words but it went like this:

"I said...
all the best freaks are here,
all the best freaks are here,
please stop staring at me,
have you ever woken up,
sweating in the middle of the night, you search in the darkness, scrambling for the light,
you walk in the middle of the night, with boots following you,
All the best freaks are here."

Its obvious that this song makes absolutely no sense unless it was composed for the Camino and all its Freaks!

As if the sound tune to my Camino 2012 was not enough, as I was still humming along to the guitar solo, I was confronted with a man imitating a lizard behind some low bushes. He was trying to hide behind this small bush as if no one would notice him, and...yes, you probably work it out...unloading dinner and breakfast next to the vines.

I understand it is one of the problems of the Camino, there are hardly any facilities to release the basic needs. However, there are villages with cafes every 5 kms most days - although this poor sole must have had a full on emergency.

I wished him a loud "Buen Camino" with a giggle, to which he did reply with a painful "caaamino".

I guess a good walker is measured not only by navigation skills, stamina, knowledge of equipment, and average speed of walk, but also by his technical expertise on how long you are going to last before a full pit stop is necessary. Watering the plants is not considered in the latter!

Soon after Mr. Lizard two of the three Catalonians, whom I have been walking with quite a few kilometres, caught up with me. The third one is struggling with their speed, so has been left to his own devices and they meet at the end of the walk.

Now the interesting thing was that these chaps were actually not very Catalan at all - both by accent and by conversation. So diplomatically asking them, to avoid any of the usual Catalanist nationalist cliches that you hear when they travel around, they revealed they were actually from Salamanca but lived in Barcelona.

All three of them met in a marathon running club, which also explained their speed. They are all above 60 years of age, and the one left behind is 65.

The oldest latter shared with me that he was worried about getting injured during their half Camino this year. His family had bought him as a present for his 65th birthday an entry for the New York Marathon! He didn't really want to go as he had retired form long distance running that year, but he felt obliged. His main worry was that he didn't speak any English and would get lost over there.

Half way along the trip we stopped for a break at Ciruena. This town, built about ten years ago, is the best reflection of how Spain got to where it is financially. Its in the middle of no where, with dry fields and no water resources. However it has a huge golf course, about 200 luxury flats, a massive community swimming pool, basketball court and football pitch. About ninety percent of the flats had signs "Se Vende" (for sale), and probably had never been lived in. Who financed all this, and who licensed it! The closest large town is 40kms in any direction, so not really a convenient place.

They did have a farmer who had planted his veggies in the middle of all this wasted luxury - probably in the original children's playground. All I can say is that he was very successful with the size of the pumpkins. He probably could get a better mortgage on one of those than on any of the flats!

The three of us kept a good speed all the way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada (Saint Sunday of the Road...), and were actually the first to slap our rucksacks down at the albergue entrance.

We originally stopped at the Convent albergue as it was described as smaller and quieter. But as we waited calmly for them to open, up to three neighbours of the town warned us (with a certain tone of "be careful with this place") that the new albergue was further down the road.

We ignored the first two, but the third one did say that "the sisters are very tough" with pilgrims. We looked at each other and slowly grabbed our bags and moved away to the new albergue. I had visions of the nuns making us pray kneeling down and holding a bible in each hand with our arms spread. Not something I wanted to experience at this stage of my life.

It was a hidden omen as the other albergue is described generally as the best one in all the Camino. A lot of public money has been wasted (sorry I meant "well invested") in the building.
Lots of showers with powerful hot water, a huge kitchen, dining room for about forty, TV room, reading room with about ten leather sofas, washing facilities, a garden, and a chapel. 70 percent sponsored by the Government of Rioja.

The reception area is also huge and the "hospitaleros" organised perfectly. Most of them are foreigners as in most of the Camino. Ladies and chaps that one day did the Camino and decided to stay and work along it. The manager in this case was Argentinian and explained the main rules to us outside: go inside in groups of five, take boots off, register and then they showed us round.

The best part is that...there is no specific price. Its based on donations and each one pays as they like into a donation box at the entrance. There are quite a few of these under religious orders apparently. I donated the usual amount - 8 euros.

Looking back, prices have been going down as we advance: from 16 euros at St Jean and Roncesvalles, to 8, 7 and 5 euro at the place I have booked for tomorrow. I'm not sure if its because there is more competition or what is the story, but I know my pocket has improved as we walk along. I might make some money by the time I get to Galicia.

We had to wait for over an hour at the albergue door, but it was actually good fun. I know about 20 people now, some more than others, so its entertaining to see where everyone is. No enlightments yet, but plenty of incidents and snoring sagas!

The terrible part, even when considering we were in an open plaza, was the stink of dry sweat. I had to keep moving around as it was obvious that the dirty clothes were catching up with a few pilgrims. I'm not sure if thei washing technique is medieval or whether its part of their self punishment.

The albergue was so organised, that they event sorted out (finally!) the older and handicapped in the lower bunk beds, and the rest on the top ones.

The bathrooms were so large and clean that I shaved for the second time this trip!

I guess I should feel proud of being considered young and fit, as the asked me to go above the old Singing Monk.

Being one of the first allowed me to conquer a good long shower and then pop out for lunch. My eating habits have clearly developed a pattern:

- fruit breakfast and perhaps a local bun or croissant with a coffee after two hours walk

- lunch after I reach the albergue. I'm getting fond of the Pilgrim menus for lunch instead of dinner as that's when I'm hungry and they keep you going until late.

- light dinner around 8pm. At albergue if they have a kitchen where I can heat whatever I buy (local specialities), or a tapa or salad outside if there are no facilities.

The pilgrim menu was excellent at a place in the medieval area:
- marmitako (potatoes with tuna stew)
- oven lomo with potatoes
- a piece of water melon
- a bottle of wine (per person!)
- water and bread

All for 10 euros. I still don't understand how they do it, as portions are good and quality acceptably tasty.

I spent about an hour in a bar next to the albergue having a refreshment as I used their WiFi. A lot more bars than I expected have internet available for clients. Certainly many more than there were in the North of England a few weeks back.

There Rafael the non stop blabber saw me and tried to bore me with his endless wisdom about the Camino. He has don it three times and insists on telling everyone about everything he is doing or done. He was complaining about the amount of people clogging the albergues.
I couldn't resist replying that I strongly believed the main problem is the pilgrims who have walked it already and are repeating. I insisted the Church should take their names down and forbid them for doing it again. He didn't listen - no surprise there!

Dinner: local steamed vegetables with asparagus, and red peppers stuffed with cod. Fantastic.
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