Leonathon

It’s 9:30 on a Wednesday evening and I’m sitting at a child’s school desk, flanked by bunks, and looking through a wire mesh covered window at the square outside my hostel.  It’s warm but occasionally a cool breeze wafts through the window providing relief.  Despite the late hour there’s ample light to see by and I’m watching the patrons of the neighboring cafe converse.  You can hear people speaking but not what they’re saying, except when a shrill voice in English exclaims how much she loves Spanish cafes.  A balding man is feeding the pigeons leftovers, the waiter rushes out to clear a table when it vacates all while a young man is serendading the diners on a Spanish guitar hooked up to a small amplifier.  I imagine this is what it looks like every night.

Tonight I’m at the Benedictine monastery/convent in Leon, having walked over a full marathon.  Putting in an 11 hour day and now watching the cafe, I understand why the Spaniard schedules his day as he does.  I don’t quite understand it, but the sun is at it’s highest at 3 in the afternoon (hence siesta from 2-4) and the sun doesn’t go behind the buildings, much less set, before 8 (hence the late dinners).  If I were a pharmacist and started my evening at 9, I wouldn’t open the store until 10 the next day either.

Leon is a mid-sized city in northwestern Spain and, like Burgos, sports a large gothic cathedral.  This one is based on the one in Rheims, France and, because most of it is one big room, you can fully see the soaring ceilings.  Standing in there, you can begin to understand why these things were built.  This would be the grandest place a medieval peasant would ever see (I’d point to the gold altars I’ve posted previously) and what better way to convince them that God exists here than to build a ceiling so high that you can picture heaven just beyond?


The cathedral is known for it’s stained glass windows – and they are special.




I will say after more than a full day’s walk, I probably wasn’t in the best position to fully appreciate the cathedral and I was slightly miffed by the 6 euro entry fee (no pilgrim discount).  Taken as a whole, it certainly isn’t as impressive as the Burgos cathedral and if I could only visit one, I would pick Burgos.  This one is nice, but you can see just as nice or nicer in France, Belgium and Germany with no entry fee.

The reason for today’s walk can be chalked up to an unhealthy combination of stupidity and cockiness.  The first 15 kilometers went pretty easy, so we decided to stretch an originally planned 25 to 32.  Still feeling good around noon, we decided, what the hell, let’s go all the way to Leon.  Maria, who sat out two days so far, decided to catch a bus and meet us in Leon.  Rather than make her wait, we figured we’d walk 1 1/2 days mileage and just meet her today.  Since I actually like seeing things along the way, I decided to tack on the cathedral as well.  (This is Spain and the cathedral won’t open until 9:30 tomorrow, by which time I’ll be moving on)

Astute readers will notice that I’ve been behind in my posts by a day.  Since absolutely nothing of interest happened yesterday, I’ve decided to combine the two days into one post and just focus on today.  Tomorrow will be a short day, but hopefully more full of experiences than what I’ve had recently.

I decided to break off from dinner early so I could attend to some personal business and I’m glad I did because after my shower, a nun came through the dorm rounding up people for the evening prayer and pilgrim blessing.  I’ve yet to attend mass on my trip but a blessing seems palatable.

The whole affair was in Spanish but we were given little booklets that explained the prayers in our native tongues.  There was singing, recitation of psalms, prayers and a heartfelt offering of safety, contemplation and accomplishment at the pilgrimage’s end by the roughly 15 nuns in attendance.  Once again I’m struck by how there are people along the Camino who’s only purpose is to serve the pilgrims that come along.  The nuns that operate this place charge a measly 6 euros per bunk.  There’s no way their costs are covered, not to mention the extras like taking time each and every day to deliver a special blessing.

The Camino’s origins are spiritual (Catholic, specifically) and I want to take the last few weeks and explore that aspect a little bit.  For now, I’m beat and am headed to bed.  Good night.

July 11, 2017

Ledigos to Berciano del Real Camino – 16 miles

July 12, 2017

Berciano del Real Camino to Leon – 27 miles

Leon city wall


I loved this show as a kid

On Angels and Allowances

Late start today on account of wanting to make sure Maria was squared away with insulin.  That doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping in, just not jumping out of bed in frustration after listening to the morning rustle song.

The clinic doesn’t open until 9, so we went to a bar around the corner for some breakfast and coffee.  The San Fermin festival is currently underway in Pamplona which means the bars turn on the bull running in the morning.  It’s quite the draw, at about 10 to eight a bunch of locals come in, order a coffee, watch TV for 15 minutes and then leave again.  The Spanish TV coverage is also funny.  They show the run live and then spend a half hour ciritiquing the performance of the runners, including shaming the wussies, and replaying the injuries time and time again.  Not much different than American sports.

I ended up leaving close to clinic opening time, while Stefan and Philipp stayed in town because they needed a pharmacy, which doesn’t open until the odd time of 9:50.  Maria got her insuling without a problem but took the day off to heal up some very troublesome blisters on the ball of her foot.

The landscape has taken a turn for the better.  We now get some green and some distant mountains.  You also have the odd tree every now and then along the trail.

About an hour into the walk, I ran into a German tour group.  Apparently they have a bus and walk selected portions of the trail, going back to the bus and a hotel in the evening.  In today’s walk, they were tackling a strenuous 8 flat kilometers.  They said they expected to be in Santiago on Saturday.  I’m not judging, just reporting that such an option is available.  Hike your own hike.

A man towards the back was struggling, so I asked if he was OK.  He was walking with a woman that appeared to be his wife and another man.  The other man said his friend was cramping and that they needed electrolytes, but he had left them on the bus.  I said “No, problem”, unslung my bag and handed him some tablets that I picked up last week when my calves were hurting and I thought that might be the solution.  The injured man accepted them and his wife looked very grateful.  Oddly, the two men looked more ashamed than grateful – you know that look a dog has when it poops in the kitchen?  It must be something cultural with Germans.  Like they’ve reached a new low when they need assistance from a random stranger.

Walking alone, my mind began to wander.  The group seemed pretty religious, sporting large crosses and other religious paraphenalia.  I got to thinking, a religious person could consider our interaction as – God helping out in a time of need.  “I was cramping and could’t go on – then God sent an angel with electrolyte tablets”.  Viewed in that light, it could strengthen your faith.

However, I know the true story.  I’m far from an angel and probably 75% of the people walking the Camino have something on them that would help.  Then I considered a creationist point of view could still argue that my calf pain the previous week was part of some master plan, the culmination of which was relief for the old guy.   But it’s pretty crappy to force me to endure miles of pain just so a forgetful geezer gets assistance halfway through his 8km walk.  Plus that argues against free will on my part, which gets back to the discussion of a few nights ago.  Alas, I still don’t have any answers but I do have a much better chance to think on the Camino than the AT.

Since today was fairly devoid of experiences, I wanted to say a little about finances.  In short, hiking the Camino is ridiculously inexpensive.  Spain is a relatively cheap country to begin with and when you couple that with the hostels you end up with a very inexpensive vacation.

Excluding hotels, I spend about $10/night for lodging.  Minimal food, consisting of one big meal, a small breakfast and snacks from the supermarket cost about $20/day.  A$35/day food budget lets you live like a king with plenty of beer and meals whenever you want. Factor in $100 for incidentals like laundry, blister bandages or sunscreen and you’re at $1,000 to $1,500 for a month trip depending on how much you want to splurge on food.  If you want a private room every night, I would plan on $75/night and being branded as a primadonna among the dormitory dwellers. (As always, HYOH)

I’m on pace to spend $1400 over 30 days, including all expenses – hotels too.  Transportation obviously varies based on where you’re coming from and if you refuse to fly anything but first class like a certain Jen I know.

July 10, 2017

Carrion de los Condes to Ledigos – 15 miles

Crop Art


A new addition

Stefan’s friend, Philip, met us today.  He’s going to walk the rest of the way to Santiago. I walked with him a little bit and got to know him – he’s a software engineer for a German bank (not that one, Z-man) and works part-time in Berlin and part-time in Hanover.  He and Stefan are friends from grade school, who share an interest in running and athletic endeavors.  After day one, his defining characteristics are the 3 foot long dreadlocks he’s been cultivating for 7 years and the ungodly number of cigarettes he can roll and smoke in an hour.  Nice guy and I hope I get to know him better.

Today was the first day that the Camino took us along a road for the entire day.  Most of the walking was on a dirt path next to the road, but it was still noisy and not particularly scenic.  At least it was a distraction from the ever present wheat fields.

I was expecting another dead town tonight, but this one is actually relatively lively.  We are in Carrion de los Condes and there are two large albergues run by nuns here.  In the courtyard of our albergue is a baskbetball hoop and I like to think that the nuns have weekly rec games against each other.  Benedictines against the Dominicans.  Judging by the sheer amount of old people (nuns included), this appears to be the Spanish equivalent of a spa town where the elderly go for rest and relaxation.  

On a Sunday evening, the streets were full with people – first going to evening mass, then coming back and sitting in the cafes and bars, of which there are dozens.  

We took our dinner at the Cervezeria, where I tried an excellent new beer, by far my favorite in Spain so far.

The spot also hit one of my travel rules – pick the place with the handwritten menus because they will cook what’s fresh and in season.  I opted for the gazpacho, the beef and the chocolate mousse.  It was good, although a little bit annoying that we had to pay an extra euro to sit outside vs. inside.

After dinner, we came back to a crisis at the albergue.  Stefan had bought two 1 liter beers at the supermarket earlier, put them in the albergue refrigerator and come back to find that some fiend had ruthlessly drunk them.  The perpertrator went unidentified and was never punished for his misdeed.
Actually that wasn’t the crisis.  Maria carries insulin for her diabetes, which is best kept cold.  She has a special bag that keeps it cool as long as it stays wet, but we convinced her to just put the insulin in the fridge overnight.  Someone mistook the insulin bag for a cooler pack and put it in the freezer, rendering it unusable.  Understandably, she was concerned about being in a foreign country and replacing her insulin – apparently she has roughly 3 days before she keels over dead.  We discussed the issue until the nuns yelled at us for being up past lights out, whereupon we enlisted them for help to find a doctor that will write her a new prescription.  There is a clinic in town that opens tomorrow morning and she should be able to get a replacement there.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Oh, and Lauchlin is back on the trail.  He’s 20 kilometers back and should catch up soon.

July 9, 2017

Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes – 17 miles

Maria after rolling her first cigarette (next time a little tighter) and before finding her life saving medication gone.  

Philosophy and Nothingness

Still inspired by yersterday’s happenings, I stopped and visited Manuel and Isabella on my way out of town.  They served me a breakfast of muesli and yogurt and wished me well on my continued journey.  I love the fact that people like Manuel and Isabella exist in this world and I’m not sure I will ever be as passionate about anything as they are about their life.  There will be plenty of time to explore those thoughts as I pass more wheat fields on the meseta.

I spent the morning walking with a young Polish man who’s studying automation and a Frenchman from near Mont Blanc who likes to eat cheese (very unique, I know – a cheese loving Frenchman).  Stefan and Maria were a little behind, while Lauchlan had zoomed ahead, powered by the prospect of a conjugal visit from his significant other at the next major town.  I wonder when we’ll see him again.

The walk held few highlights, but I have noticed the Spanish take their orange juice very seriously.  It’s always fresh squeezed and one place I stopped at even had this monstrous contraption set up that looks like a Rube Goldberg device.  Whole oranges are inserted into the top and the machine takes care of the rest, splitting the orange, squeezing the halves and depositing the spent orange into a bin.

I put in a shorter, slower day to give the legs and feet a little time to heal.  It seems to have helped because I was able to walk without pain.  What a difference to yesterday.  I’ll do another short day tomorrow before hopefully ramping up the mileage again.

Tonight Stefan, Maria and I are staying in another dead town.  There is literally nothing here except a couple of albergues.  No restaurants, no cafes, no grocery stores.  Fortunately the albergue has a tap and we were able to waste the afternoon drinking beer and talking about determinism versus free will.  None of us are walking the trail for religious reasons, so the scientific arguments resonated strongly within our group (plus we’re all relatively analytical – Stefan teaches math and Maria is studying to be a scientist).  

I find it interesting how you are drawn to people.  I knew nothing about Stefan and Lauchlin or Maria when I started walking with them.  Normally I don’t walk with others – I like to set my own pace and stop when I decide.  However, with these guys, something just clicked.  At first, I thought it was that we walked similar speeds, then it turned out we were having fun.  Now it’s progressed to where I know my companions fairly well and realize that we all think similarly and share many of the same basic values.  It makes me wonder if one subsconsciously picks up on vibes or cues that say “hey, you should hang with these people”.

July 8, 2017

Hontana to Boadilla del Camino – 19 miles

Old Monastery Ruins along the route

Pictures from yesterday

Garbage scavenging storks while leaving Burgos

Cute little town along the way

Wheat fields, wheat fields, wheat fields

These are two families that are on the trail.  The three on the bench are one family and wearing lederhosen.  The kids are not very happy.  The other family has 4 kids and they are carrying the kids in strollers with umbrellas.

Manuel and Isabella

Bonus random dog in town

Downs and Ups

Today was brutal.  I think the miles of the last week are catching up to me.  I’ve walked close to 150 miles over the last week, which is quite a bit more than I’m used to.  Up to now I’ve been relatively injury free but that turned on a dime.  Now I’m nursing a two very sore sore calves and a couple of blisters, one on each heel.  Needless to say, walking 20 miles on days when every step hurts isn’t particularly fun.

It doesn’t help that I’ve started walking the meseta, which is as mind-numbingly boring as it’s made out to be.  They say the Camino is made of three parts – the first is physical, the second is mental and the third is spiritual.  I’ve clearly progressed to the second stage.  I’m so sick of wheat fields that the thought of eating bread repulses me.  I refuse to support an economy that’s based on a landscape as hideous as this.  The road, while flat, is suprisingly rocky which means your feet are constantly shifting and, if you’re lazy and don’t tie your shoes right, results in some lovely blisters.  Yes, it’s stupid but that’s where we are now.  That said, I have plenty of experience to draw on and today was nowhere near as bad as some days on the AT.  Call me cocky, but I’m nowhere close to giving up and this trail ain’t that long anymore.

Since I was in a hotel last night and the rest of the gang was in an albergue, I never managed to hook up with them and walked the day alone.  I ran into my first set of nuns while on the trail and sadly, that was the lone hiking highlight.  The second highlight came when I saw Stefan in the albergue.  After taking care of daily chores (cleaning one’s self and clothes), Lauchlin and I taught the others how to play 500.  The rest of the afternoon was spent over a card game and a few beers.

Stefan saw a sign advertising “The Camino’s Best Paella” at one of the other auberges, so we headed there for dinner.  Paella is a traditional Spanish dish made with rice or cous cous mixed with vegetables and fish or other protein.  Sadly, you had to have made a reservation, but the host (hospitaliero) invited us in anyway and offered to make us something else.  Thus began one of my best Camino experiences to date.

There were about 20 people eating dinner, most of which were enjoying the paella.  Manuel, the hospitaliero, was kind enough to give us some of the leftovers to sample after the others finished and it was indeed delicious.  After dinner, Manuel came out, sat down in the corner and said it was time for a history lesson (talk story we would say in Hawaii).  He started off talking about the history of paella and how it was originally a dish that poor people made from leftovers – that’s where the name comes from and you could see this man was serious about paella.  The interesting part, however, came as he segued into a more personal story.

Manuel was living Barcelona (Barthelona as he pronounces it), working a good job but lacking passion.  He was not unhappy but felt there could be more.  So he set off on the Camino to decide what to do with his life.  He was so moved by his journey that he concluded the Camino should be his life and he decided to work as a hospitaliero, supporting other pilgrims making the journey.  He got a job in the kitchen at an albergue and realized he had found his passion.

One day an Eastern European woman on a pilgrimage came through the albergue.  They looked at each other and he immediately fell in love.  They talked through the night but the next day she left to finish her walk.  They didn’t exchange numbers or contact info, but Manuel calculated it would take 20 days until she would be in Santiago.  If it was meant to be, she would come back then.  On day 19, someone tapped him on the arm; he turned and saw the Eastern European woman.  They married and now work together as hospitalieros.  Each year, they find a new albergue and serve the pilgrims that come through.  Manuel makes his paella and Isabella helps serve it to the pilgrims.

Manuel closed by saying he has found his passion and he hopes we will all do the same.  He feels that everyone needs to be the change they want to see in the world and that we are all a big family.  I’m sure that Manuel says this every night to each group of pilgrims that rotates through but the way he said it was shockingly honest and heartfelt.  My summary doesn’t come close to doing it justice.  I’m a pretty cynical person, but I was moved.  It was a powerful reminder that we don’t move through this world alone – that much of what we do and accomplish is only made possible because of the hard work of others.  Whether it’s my family, teachers, the guys that built the road that lets me get to work or the hospitalieros that work on the Camino, I wouldn’t be where I am without them.  I serve others as well and I need to do some thinking about what that means.

Tonight was the first time on this trip where something hit me that I wasn’t expecting.  It’s a new side of the Camino and I feel fortunate that I was able to experience it.

Sorry for the lack of pictures.  Internet on the meseta is atrocious to put it kindly and I will put up a picture post once I have sufficient bandwidth.

July 7, 2017

Burgos to Hontanas – 22 miles

Burgos

Another relatively poor night’s sleep on account of people getting up at 4:30  At first I tried to ignore it, but the two people next to me kept crinkling and using their phones as flashlights.  At 5:30, I gave up again, packed my stuff and was still the first one on the trail (I know because I broke the spider webs).  How on earth does it take someone over an hour to pack their bag?

The path was relatively easy but there was a short rocky stretch over a small mountain that gave the bicyclists fits.  As we crested the hill, I got my first view of Burgos in the distance and the infamous meseta beyond.  The meseta is the large plain that runs through northern Spain.  It’s treeless, dry, barren and supposedly the worst stretch of trail on the entire Camino.

There are two routes into Burgos – one follows a major highway through an industrial area, while the other one runs south of the airport and into town along the river.  I opted for the river path, which is a little bit longer but supposed to be much prettier.  I didn’t think it was especially beautiful but talking to people who took the other route, it definitely sounds like I made the right choice.

Burgos seems to have a graffiti problem.  Most surfaces to which paint will adhere have some marking on them.  Graffiti can be interesting when it’s well done, but this was more akin to a dog urinating on a fence to mark their territority.

I reached Burgos shortly before noon and was pleasantly surprised to learn I could check into my room already.  ($75 this time and not as nice as the room in Logrono) After a nice long shower, I went to explore the city and the cathedral. 

Burgos cathedral is the third largest in Spain and is a well deserved UNESCO world heritage site.  Entry price was $8, but pilgrims only have to pay $4.50.  I’m not used to paying admission to cathedrals in Europe, but Spain seems to be a different animal in that regard.

Construction on the cathedral began in 1221 and it is a leading example of the French gothic style. Burgos was a bishop’s seat, hence the placement of a cathedral there.  Work on the cathedral continued in stages, with numerous expansions and additions from the 15th through the 18th centuries.

It’s difficult to get a good picture of the exterior because the spires are so tall and the surrounding buildings relatively close.  This was the best I could manage.

The interior is broken into numerous chapels with a traditional church in the middle.  While the components are gorgeous and fully restored, the church itself doesn’t give the same feeling as walking into one the giant cathedrals in France or Belgium because the chapels feel like the church is broken into rooms.  You don’t get that sense of space and grandeur of the soaring ceilings that you have in other cathedrals (even though the ceilings are very high). The detail on many of the altarpieces and architectural elements in the chapels is incredible and it would take more time than I wanted to take to fully examine them.  If in Burgos, I can wholeheartedly recommend setting a few hours aside to walk through the cathedral.

 

I thought I would have a quiet evening to myself tonight, but Stefan and Lauchlin put in a big day and caught up to me.  So, rather than getting caught up on some work, I went to have beers instead.  Take a guess – which one is the Dane, the German and the Aussie?

July 6, 2017

Monasterio San Juan de Ortega to Burgos – 18 miles

More cathedral and Burgos

 


Not graffiti, more of a mural:

Ghost Towns

For the past several days, I’ve started walking through deserted towns more and more.  I suspect these were once small farming communities but the switch to large factory farms, which require hardly any labor, has rendered them obsolete.  About half or more of the houses in these villages look abandoned.  Ususally you can tell if someone still lives in a house because 1) they have window boxes with flowers and 2) they have intact windows.  There is scant evidence of any commercial activity – no stores, no factories, maybe a stray albergue here and there.  It reminds me of what I saw in rural America while hiking the AT.  The kids have moved away to find work and only the grandparents are left.

Today I bid farewell to Lauchlin and Stefan.  They are nursing several niggling injuries and wanted a short day.  I’m still feeling relatively good and wanted to spend the night in an old monastery along the way, so we exchanged contact info, they stayed in Villafranca and I continued on another 8 miles.

The path out of Villafranca represented our first significant climb for days and it felt good to use my up muscles again.  Plus the path led into a forest, which meant shade and cooler temps.  I really do prefer mountains and forests to plains.  Look!  Wildflowers!

In contrast to the hike up, the monastery was a bit of a disappointment.  Originally built by St. John the Hermit (San Juan de Ortega – sounds like a tortilla brand) in the 12th century as a stopping point for pilgrims, it was later expanded by Augustinian and Los Jeronimos monks.  The monks disbanded and left in 1835, after which the monastery was used by the local farmers for hay storage.  The monastery is slowly being restored and part of it again serves as a 60 bed albergue.

Unfortunately they haven’t gotten around to restoring the plumbing and electrical yet, which means it’s pretty rustic.  There are lights, but only one outlet shared among 20 people.  The showers are something only a masochist could love.  Calling the wifi sketchy is being generous and alas I get no phone signal.  Then again, it’s 10 euros for a bunk so complaints really aren’t in order.


Dinner was standard pilgrim fare, but served in a buffet line.  Bread soup made from last night’s stale bread, industrial pasta with industrial tomato sauce, a dollop of something I believe was at one point pork based and the ever present french fries.  For dessert I was given a choice between banana yogurt and an orange.  I opted for the protein instead of the vitamin C.

I sat down at a long table only to have a Frenchman sit across from me.  He spoke no English and I speak no French so we got as far as “Bon Appetit” before spending the rest of the meal in silence.  Kind of fitting for a monastery actually.

Tomorrow I plan to walk to Burgos, one of the larger cities along the route and home to one of the continent’s top cathedrals.  I am again indulging in a hotel room where I look forward to actually getting a good night’s sleep.

June 5, 2017

Redecilla del Camino to Monasterio San Juan de Ortega – 23 miles

The monastery courtyard has been turned into a laundry room

Weirdness Ensues

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

Albergue Lyfe

 Bonus Shepherd and Sheep

 

Routine kicks in

Today was relatively uneventful.  The daily routine has become get up, put on clothes, walk, eat, walk some more, eat some more, repeat x2, check into albergue, shower, wash clothes if ambitious, eat, write blog, sleep.  Only the locations and the cast of characters changes.

I left the hotel at 6:30 but by 6:45 I ran into Stefan and Lauchlin and walked with them the rest of the way.  Today’s supporting cast consisted of an ultramarathoner from Detroit and his wife, an Asian from Belgium, a Brit in a kilt and a Dutch girl who hopped on the trail that day in Logrono.  Many people on the Camino simply walk a short section or start in places other than St. Jean.  The only rule that I’m aware of is that you need to walk the last 100km to Santiago in order to receive a Compostela.  There are also two other accredited ways of traversing the Camino – by bike and by horse.  So far I’ve seen plenty of bikers but no one on horseback.

The landscape has turned somewhat monotonous.  It now consists of long valleys with predominantly wheat fields interspersed with a few vineyards.  It’s still pretty, but not dramatic.  The mountains in the distance are dramatic.

There is also nothing in terms of interesting animals.  This must not be a livestock region so even the farm animals are gone.  The most exciting animal I’ve seen in three days was a rabbit that hopped across the path.  And maybe the storks, which we don’t have by us.

This evening I’m staying in an albergue run (owned?) by a what looks to be a very scrawny metalhead.  He’s roughly 6 feet tall and weighs at most 120 pounds, 10 of which is hair.  He’s friendly enough but it’s clear the operation is fairly low effort.  There is one toilet for 20 beds and the plumbing and electrical do not appear to have been installed by licensed tradespeople.  When I asked for the Wifi password, he took my phone, turned away from me and entered a password.  That didn’t work so I asked him to re-enter it.  This time he didn’t hunch over enough and I could see him type “restaurantchino” which is the name of the restaurant next door.  Unless he owns both businesses, he’s leeching off his neighbor’s internet.  I have a lower bunk, though, so I’m not complaining.

Lauchlin purchased a deck of cards and two six packs (grand total $7) and we spent the evening playing President/Asshole with a Danish woman who’s walking with an insulin pump and a South African woman who likes to cheat at cards.

This marks one week on the Camino.  I’ve walked about 125 miles, which is respectable considering I had a short day into Pamplona.  As long as the body continues to hold up, making it to Santiago in time shouldn’t be much of an issue.

July 3, 2017

Logrono to Najera – 21 miles

Very ornate gold altarpiece in Navarette

Someone must stand here and feed the fishies

Bonus swan