Lauchlin and Stefan weren’t quite ready to leave when I was, so I took off a few minutes ahead of them and figured I’d just catch them during breakfast in the next town. After a 20 minute wait, I concluded I must have missed them when I went to the bathroom. I never did catch them and ended up spending the day walking alone.
The scenery is still 90% monotonous wheat fields and the small villages interspersed between them don’t elicit much enthusiasm or interest. My body has been holding up fairly well, but with a few miles left in the day my calves started acting up. I don’t know if it was just cramps, fatigue or what but they’re definitely tight. Nutrition has been more challenging than I expected. While meals are readily available, the pilgrim dinners in the albergues are universally light on protein. I’ve been rationing some protein powder I brought from home but haven’t been able to find a suitable substitute in the small stores along the way (by small store I mean 3 shelves, one of which is devoted to bread – presumably from the ample supply of wheat in the area).
The days have been getting warmer, but not unbearably so. I still prefer the heat and sun to the cold and grey of the first few days, but it’s required an adjustment in terms of sunscreen application and fluid intake, Fortunately, living on Kauai has given me a nice base tan and I haven’t suffered the sunburns that I see on some of the less fortunate pilgrims.
I strolled into my finish town, Redecilla del Camino, and headed to the town’s only albergue, noted by a small hand painted sign on a building near the town entrance. The host, an effervescent Spaniard with only a modest grasp of English, greeted me at the door and offered me a glass of fresh lemonade. Very welcoming! We sat down in his living room to run through the check-in, which I thought was odd, since this albergue was supposed to have 50 beds. He took my passport and stamped my credenciale, smiling and talking in Spanish about things I couldn’t understand. I looked at the sheet where he was noting my passport number and it took me a few seconds of staring to establish that he had only had 2 guests and that was 2 nights ago (dates in Europe go day/month/year). OK, that’s kind of odd. I talked to him in my broken Spanish and established that this was not, in fact, the 50 bed municipal albergue but a competitor that had opened up recently. That was why it didn’t show up in any of the guides. Since he was starting out, he was operating “donativo”, which means no set price, you simply make a donation at the end of your stay.
He led me upstairs and showed me a nice room with only 4 beds and a balcony. He also seemed so happy to have a guest that I stayed instead of walking over to the municipal where I was supposed to meet Stefan and Lauchlin. As I was sitting on the bed, unpacking my things, my mind began to work overtime. What if this is a setup? What if he’s the Jeffrey Dahmer of albergue hosts, who’s going to drug me and lock me in his pleasure dungeon in the cellar of his stone house where no one can hear me scream? I already drank the lemonade and all he has to do is quickly take down the albergue sign out front and no one will ever come looking here. Crap.
It’s amazing how the mind can take an innocuous situation and before you know it, you’re ready to panic. I was just getting ready to text my wife to let her know where I was when I saw Stefan and Lauchlin walking down the street. I ran to the balcony and waved them over, telling them I accidentally went to the wrong albergue but that they should check this one out. (I’m not getting killed alone here.) All it took was the word “donativo” to get them to come in and I was saved from my would-be serial killer. Turns out they took a wrong turn leaving town this morning and were behind me all day.
Besides the albergues, the town (I’m using that word loosely) only has one other establishment, a bar/restaurant. Not having decided whether to let Spanish Jeff Dahmer cook for us or go to the restaurant, we decided to go on a reconnaisance mission and maybe have a beer. This restaurant didn’t have any signage either – the only thing giving it away are an open door and some tables across the street on the town square. Inside the building was a young man behind a counter and a beer tap. We sidled up to the counter, ordered tres cervezas and inquired about dinner. It didn’t look like a restaurant – there was no kitchen, but he assured us it was. Dinner is served at 7. I asked if we could come earlier and he shook his head. I asked if we could come later and he shook his head again. OK, 7 it is. We drank our beers, had another and maybe another and went back to the albergue to wait for dinner.
At 7 we returned to the “restaurant” where the young man gave us a shocked look when we said we were ready to eat. He motioned us to a table and made a frantic telephone call, speaking rapidly in Spanish. I have no idea what he said or who called. 10 minutes later, a woman that looked to be his mother, came in. He pointed at us and more words were exchanged. The woman came over and said she would tak our order. There was no menu but we did get some choices – 1st course either mixed salad or some rice/bean concoction, 2nd course, chicken, hamburger or pork, 3rd course, ice cream or flan. I opted for the mixed salad, chicken and flan.
The food came from the house adjacent to the bar and I have to say, despite the lack of menus or any semblance of a professional operation, it was the best pilgrim meal I’ve had on the trail. The salad actually had vegetables, the main dish was flavorful and the flan was a rich, creamy consistency and delicious (and I don’t really like flan). I’m positive the young man’s mom just rifled her fridge and cooked us dinner because the kid said they were a restaurant, but it was a great meal and a great story.
I’m happy to say this kind of interaction has not been unusual on the Camino. I’ve found the Spanish to be warm, welcoming and generous. The people are honest – there have been no attempts to rip me off by changing prices (a popular trick in Italy and Greece). Yeah, they keep funny hours for their stores and stuff isn’t always available when I want it, but I have nothing but positive things to say about the people. Even overly friendly albergue Jeff Dahmer.
July 4, 2017
Najera to Redecilla del Camino – 22 miles
Bonus Shepherd and Sheep