Posts Tagged With: el camino de santiago

Days 21 and 22: Frómista

I was on the verge of tears all morning after I had made the decision the night before to stop walking. Not only was it a personal disappointment, but all of my friends would continue to walk, which meant that I didn’t know if I would ever see any of them again. I hugged everyone goodbye with a heavy heart.

I asked the girl who worked at the hostel bar where I would go to get a bus. Except there is no bus from Hontanas. Great. I could take a taxi to the next town… which also doesn’t have a bus. I would have to take a taxi all the way past the next Camino “stop” of Castrojeriz to Frómista, which has both train and bus service. Expensive, yes, but I really didn’t have any alternative.

As the taxi pulled up in front of the hostel, a Canadian pilgrim couple who had been sitting at the cafe tables outside drinking coffee asked me, “Where are you going?” “Frómista,” I answered. The husband turned to his wife: “Do you want to take a cab to Frómista?” “Sure,” she replied. They picked up their packs and threw them into the trunk of the cab. Sweet! My cab fare had just gone down from 45 to 15 Euro.

The cab driver, who looked like a Spanish Robert de Niro in sunglasses, was accustomed to talking to pilgrims and so spoke in a very clear Spanish that I could understand well. We flew down the road. I hadn’t been in a car in three weeks. Cars go so fast when you’re used to walking everywhere. My heart broke as we sped past both Chris and Jasmine along the road. It hurt even more as we rounded the corner and started to approach Castrojeriz: a gorgeous tree-lined road leads up to the town, where a castle on a cliff overlooks the cathedral of the old town. It was a clear sunny day, perfect for walking. I groaned in disappointment.

“Yes,” Manuel the taxi driver responded in Spanish, “but then you would also have to walk over that,” indicating past the town to a steep hill with an even steeper descent. “I’m OK being in a taxi!” I agreed.

We were dropped off in Frómista about 25 minutes later. I had just gone a distance that normally would have taken me two days walking in just under half an hour. Unreal.

None of the albergues opened until 1pm, so I killed time sitting at a local cafe/bar (which soon became the activity de rigueur in Frómista during hostel lock-out time: order coffee; use bar wifi for two hours until it becomes painfully obvious that you are loitering for internet access; find new cafe; repeat). There was another injured pilgrim sitting there: Jackie had been in Frómista for two days with terrible leg pain. She had been going for twice-daily sessions with a local massage therapist and provided me with the phone number there. She also recommended a specific albergue in town because of its negligible walking distance from a cafe, restaurant, and two bars (all with wifi). Advice from the expert!

I checked into the albergue just after 1pm, but a line of pilgrims had already formed in front of me. I told the hospitalero that I was having leg problems and asked if I could both 1) stay an extra night to rest, and 2) get a lower bunk so that I wouldn’t have to strain anything by climbing. When I entered my dorm room, I saw that all of the lower beds were taken. Almost desperate, I explained in Spanish that I was hurt and asked if anyone would be willing to trade me for a lower bunk. Some people were either injured themselves or elderly and so understandably didn’t offer, but one obviously healthy pilgrim wearing a beret and way too much makeup glared at me and flatly shook her head no. “Wow, guys. Thanks. Nice Camino spirit there,” I grumbled. I then asked again at the front desk and was transferred to a small unlabeled room with only two bunks, where I had my choice of either lower bed. HA! It pays to ask.

The weather in Frómista was beautiful and warm for a change. It was the first time in a long time that I could remember being able to (more or less) sit comfortably outside in short sleeves. At Jackie’s recommendation, I joined Sarah and Eveline from Germany at the corner restaurant for dinner, where the pilgrim menu did not look like a pilgrim menu. Again, for the first time in ages, I had a nice vegetable salad, spinach lasagna, and wine. No French fries in sight! The restaurant that Sunday evening was full of young couples with their smaill children enjoying the weekend. Not that I’m normally a huge fan, but Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook was playing overhead, and a pilgrim couple had stood up to slow dance. It felt really… civilized. Almost like I wasn’t wearing wool hiking socks along with Teva sandals. Almost :).

I went to my first massage session on Monday morning.  It was not comfortable for my hip, but I hadn’t really expected it to be.  The therapist recommended that I return twice, once in the evening and once the following morning.  By the time Monday evening rolled around, I realized that I didn’t need several more massages as much as I needed more time to rest.  And in a town bigger than Fromista.

The next morning, I was waiting around the corner for the bus.  I was biting the bullet and traveling ahead to Leon.

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Sarah and Wham!-era George Michael

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Jackie

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Day 20: Rabé to Hontanas

Distance walked: 11.5 miles
Music of the day: none

Today would mark a notable change in the landscape that the Camino passes through. The Camino was entering the Meseta, a wide flat plain with minimal elevation changes. Except for one just after the town of Castrojeriz the next day, there would be no steep climbs… but this also meant that there would be minimal shade, longer distances between towns, and not as many facilities as in the past.

I set out early (well, early for me!) with a piece of fruit in hand, planning to take a proper breakfast break in the next town, Hornillos el Camino, which was just under five miles away. It was chilly and partly sunny, but a nice morning to be walking. I had borrowed some ibuprofen from other pilgrims and had taken a nice dose earlier to help calm down my hip. I felt some twinges early on, but they disappeared after a few minutes of walking.

Along the way I met Paul, a pilgrim from Holland, and we walked much of the morning together. He was very knowledgable about the Camino, having walked it several times before. The rolling hills were slowly starting to taper down into the flatness of the Meseta. At one point, I even thought, “Wow. This is almost as flat and boring as the drive between Dayton and Columbus.” 😉

As we ambled along, the stabbing pain in my left hip returned. I got to the point where I had to put pressure on the front of my hip with my thumb in order to be comfortable enough to walk. This was not good. The next town would be my last stop for the day, even though it was barely noon. According to Paul and to my guide book, we were approaching a town, but I saw nothing. “It’s hidden in the valley,” Paul told me, and sure enough, after a few more steps the town of Hontanas appeared beneath us. We sat down at the bar of the private hostel in town, El Puntido, where I decided that I would stay for the night. (Bar+restaurant+private hostel+attached grocery store open on Sundays= good place to stay!) We were soon joined by Colin, who said that he would also stay. Paul said his goodbyes and continued on his way. I was sad to see him go: it’s amazing how close you can get to someone in just a morning’s walk!

Chris and Jasmine soon arrived in town, and, sick of the meat-bread-and-potato-based pilgrim’s menus, the four of us found the kitchen of the hostel and decided to cook dinner for ourselves. Groceries at the tiny tienda behind the hostel were slightly limited, but we had also found some pasta in the kitchen cupboards and made a big meal of pasta with sauteed vegetables (OMG! Vegetables! Remember those?) and grated cheese, bread, and wine. (The wine here is ridiculously cheap. We bought several bottles of decent wine for about 2.20 Euro apiece. It’s like the Spanish Three-Buck Chuck). It was a feast. We even had some left over for Anthony, Ciara, and Lukas when they arrived a bit later.

In the meantime, my hip was not feeling great. I was taking regular doses of strong ibuprofen, which sometimes helped, but usually didn’t. Jasmine said to me, “Well, see how it is tomorrow. You can always take the bus ahead.” Her suggestion horrified me. “Never!” I answered indignantly. “I’ll stay in this town for a week if I have to, and then I’ll walk. I’m going to walk to whole way if it kills me!”

I changed my mind later that night, when I woke up at 2am -exactly the time that I was due for another dose of pain meds – with my hip throbbing. I was despondent. This was not going to be possible. I had planned this Camino and wanted to do this for so long. It is the most frustrating thing to have the will to do something but a body that will not cooperate. I was going to have to go ahead by bus to the next bigger town (Hontanas does not even have a pharmacy) and rest there. I hoped that maybe I would be able to continue in a few days. Only time would tell.

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Saying goodbye to Paul

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Day 19: Burgos to Rabé de la Calzadas

Distance walked: 8.9 miles
Song of the day: none

Even though I woke up at what would normally be “sleeping in” time, because we had stayed out so late, I was definitely affected by the lack of sleep. I took forever to get ready in the morning: slow shower, slow bag-packing, slow checkout. My head felt like it was full of mud instead of brains. I wasn’t hung over, just incredibly foggy. I just couldn’t get my act together.

I dragged myself outside, where the weather was rainy and really cold. Breakfast at cafe. ATM withdrawal. A stop at El Corte Ingles to get on-the-road groceries, only to find that this branch had no supermarket. Purchase of sunscreen instead. Blaaah blaaah blaaaah.

My hip had already started to act up again. I was almost out of ibuprofen, but I couldn’t bear the thought of going into another store. I was leaving town so late in the morning. I didn’t know what town to walk to today. I didn’t want to walk up the multitude of steps to reach the Camino in town, so I just walked in the general direction of where I was supposed to go, which made me paranoid that I was not going the right way. Blaaah blaaah blaah.

I made it onto the Camino and followed it out of town. I was so happy to be leaving Burgos for some reason. The temperature would warm up enough where I would sweat, but as soon as I would take my fleece off, gusts of cold wind would pick up. The sun would peek out, and I would take off my rain gear only to feel raindrops minutes later. Blaaaah blaah blaaah.

At one point, the Camino abutted a rail line, and every so often, a Renfe train would whiz by. Ooh, I thought. A train. I used to go on those before I got the bright idea to start walking across Spain.

I decided to stop in Rabé (or as I like to call it, Broccoli Town) because my hip was bothering me enough to convince me not to continue. I checked into a private hostel there , where I unpacked and found that I no longer had my silk sleep sack. Great. The hostels have been chilly lately in the cold weather at night (Spain! Listen to me! It is almost JUNE! Warm up!), so I was not happy. I showered and took a nap, hoping that the rest would do me good.

I awoke to Colin’s voice in the hallway: he had checked in, but the others had decided to stay in the previous town. I got up, took some more ibuprofen for my hip, and then looked for my headphones; I use their microphone when I make Skype phone calls because otherwise the sound doesn’t come across well on my iPad. They weren’t in my bag. I ransacked my belongings. Nothing.

Yeah… and then I kind of lost it.

I tend to feel sympathetic for any dude that has to deal with a hysterically sobbing female, because he always has this uncomfortable look on his face like, “Oh crap. She’s crying. What am I supposed to say now?” Poor Colin did the best that he could, offering some advice and getting me cup of tea at the nearby bar, which was really the only other thing open in the small town. We got some dinner and were treated like gold by the owner, who gave us each a little Virgin Mary medallion on a string and to me, the biggest tortilla sandwich I had ever seen. I was also considerably cheered by the fact that I was able to access Game of Thrones again. (Couldn’t watch because the bar was too loud; coming soon to a rest day near you!) I was just going to have to play it by ear with my hip, but this string of crummy days was not at all helping my Camino morale.

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Day 18: Burgos

It was so nice to sleep in today. I got some breakfast at a cafe near my hostel, which was very close to the Arco San Juan entering the old part of the city.

For a rest day, my day wasn’t actually that restful. I spent the morning walking around the gorgeous Burgos cathedral. Admission was €7, kind of steep for a cathedral, but it came with an audio guide, so I couldn’t complain.

I spent the rest of the day doing errands: finding somewhere to wash my filthy clothes, finding a pharmacy that sold travel-sized contact solution, etc. I walked to the municipal albergue (which had been full the night before) and was allowed to use their washing facilities. There was a line to use the washers and dryers, but luckily a really kind Irish woman named Colette only had half a load and offered to throw my clothes in with hers. Yay!

In the past few days, I had learned about a pilgrim who is traveling with a documentary crew. Dane Johansen, a musician, is walking the Camino carrying his cello in its case and stopping along the way to give performances in cathedrals and churches. I had seen ads for his concerts in other towns but didn’t know the whole story behind it. I was happy to hear that he would be playing at a monastery in Burgos that night. Colin and I decided to go; we watched a roughly hour-long performance of Bach pieces and a shorter work by a Spanish composer. I was so impressed by this guy’s Camino stamina: the last thing that I would want to do after an exhausting day of walking is perform a musical instrument for an hour in front of cameras and a room full of strangers! I spoke to him for a bit afterwards: turns out, he went to high school and music school in Cleveland. (‘Cause Cleveland rocks, you know 😉 ).

The whole gang got together once again in the evening for tapas and karaoke. Minus points to Piano Bar in Burgos for the following:
1. Poor selection of rock songs
2. Speeding up the tempo/ changing the key of popular songs
3. Using video footage that shows the lyrics after they’ve been sung. What’s the point of THAT?
But it was worth it to hear Chris sing “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath; Colin and Jasmin also got in a good version of “Losing My Religion.” In the end, we stayed out way too late, but (to paraphrase Colin), that would be Future Becky’s problem.

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It’s Jaime Lannister’s hand!

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Day 17: Agès to Burgos

Distance walked: 13.9 miles
Albums of the day: Blitzen Trapper (VII, American Goldwing, Furr, and Wild Mountain Nation)

Today’s plan was to walk all the way to Burgos. I was feeling good. My friends and I joked about the description of walking into Burgos from the Camino guide written by John Brierley. While the book is a wealth of information in a small package, some of his “mystical” reflections can be a bit too much for me, and he always seems to view cities in a melodramatically negative way (whereas we look forward to them as a place to enjoy Spanish urban culture). We have held dramatic readings of passages from the Brierley book: “Waymarking may be disturbed, so stay fully focused or you might lose your way- or your body. If nerves become frayed, you can always take refuge in [a smaller town].” It has become somewhat of a joke with us.

The weather was cold and rainy upon leaving Agès. Usually I don’t mind walking in the rain as long as I have a good rain jacket and my rain cover on my pack, and this was no different. I sloshed along through Atapuerca and up the rocky path of Sierra Atapuerca. At the top, I passed a cross and then saw a figure in the distance who appeared to be pacing back and forth. As I moved closer, I realized that the figure was Paivi, a Finnish woman who had shared a bunk with me in Belorado. She was not pacing but instead winding her way through a spiral labyrinth on the ground that someone had created out of rocks at the side of the Camino. “I walk from the outside all the way in, ” she shouted through the rain, “and now I go back out.”

Sounded like a good idea to me. Pilgrims passing by got a glimpse of two crazy women in rain gear, spiralling to nowhere in the wet grass.

I was content to be walking in the rain, even though it showed no signs of stopping. Somewhere at the halfway point, I looked ahead and saw the Camino detour sharply from the road, head down a bank, and continue through a narrow path in a wheat field to another road. It seemed like an unusual path, but I saw the brightly colored rain gear of other pilgrims trudging through the field ahead of me, so I followed.

When I reached the bank, I saw that it was much steeper and muddier than I had expected. I gingerly stepped downward, trying to stabilize myself on my trekking poles as much as possible. But it was too wet and slippery in the rain, even for the poles: my shoe started to slide down over the grass, and the next thing I knew I was falling down the hill, landing awkwardly on my side in the mud with my left arm outstretched above me, poles still in hand. Shaken and filthy but not hurt, I struggled to get up out of the mud. I slipped around but finally managed to get onto the muddy path through the wheat field. There was not much walking space, and the mud was so thick that the tips of my poles would stick, causing the metallic tubes to come apart when I pulled up, with only the internal cord holding the pole together.

It was then that I looked up and saw the road that went around the field. I wasn’t even on the Camino: my fall had happened during an unnecessary shortcut.

Son of a….

I let out a few choice words which (thankfully) went unheard in the rain, then continued on to join the main road… which was also 100% mud. Every step was a challenge, between concentrating on not slipping and trying to kick off the platters of mud which were quickly accumulating on the sides of my shoes. Have you ever seen Dick Tracy, where the mobsters kill Lips Manlis (yes, I remember fictional movie characters’ names, thank you) by filling boxes around his feet with cement and then throwing him into the river? That’s what the built-up mud around my shoes felt like.

Once the muddy part stopped, the walk was actually not too bad. I trekked past the Burgos airport and into a small suburb, where the road split into different options. One unpleasant-looking option stretched next to the highway into town; when I tried the other option, however, it led me to a secluded area that bordered what looked like a trailer park. I hadn’t seen another pilgrim in over an hour, and the overlying dark clouds made the woods ahead appear very ominous. I was getting the creeps, so I quickly turned around and headed back towards the highway.

The markings along the highway started to become somewhat scattered after a while, at times taking me past an area of abandoned buildings covered in graffiti parallel to the highway. This was the first time on the Camino that I ever felt unsafe, so I was relieved once I got into town. Even so, I think I may have somehow taken the wrong road, because I walked for what seemed like forever without seeng any type of yellow arrows. I stopped about four times for directions and then became aware that I was walking through a city wearing hiking clothes that were covered in dried mud; no wonder I was getting strange looks from passersby. I stupidly hadn’t eaten in a long while and so was getting that cranky, helpless, Becky-with-low-blood-sugar feeling.

I thought back to the Brierley guide and didn’t know whether to hysterically laugh or cry as I thought, “MY NERVES ARE FRAYED!!!!”

I was at the point where I was just wandering around aimlessly because I didn’t even know exactly where I wanted to go when an older man approached me. “Albergue?,” he asked. “Si,” I replied, not having the energy to do anything else. I learned from him that all of the municipal albergues were full, so he took me to a group of privately owned rooms called Hostal Lar, where I paid, got my credencial stamped, had the hostel owner take a photo of my mud-covered ensemble, and then promptly passed out for the next few hours on my bed.

When I woke up, I got an email informing me that Colin, Lukas, Chris, and Jasmin were also staying in the same hostal, but a few floors down. And then it was time to enjoy Burgos with my friends.

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Day 16: Villafranca to Ages

Distance walked: 9.9 miles
Music of the day: Jimmy Fallon’s History of Rap (multiple volumes)

Since Jacotrans had carried my bag from Belorado to Villafranca for me, I just arranged to to have it taken forward another day to rest my legs.

The hike over the three hills outside of Villafranca, the Montes de Oca, was nowhere near as strenuous as I had anticipated, although I was happy to have waited another day to climb them since today’s weather was sunnier and warmer than yesterday. The hills took us down a long path through pine forests. It was quiet except for the whooshing of the nearby wind turbines and the chirping of birds.

We passed through San Juan de Ortega, my intended destination from the day before. I have to say that I’m glad that I hadn’t stayed there: it didn’t seem like there was much to see or do there.

The five of us checked into El Pajar, “The Hay Loft,” a private albergue in the town of Ages. Other than a delicious dinner at the neighboring Taberna de Ages that included a big plate of blood sausage (which is quickly becoming one of my major food groups in Spain), there is not much else to add. We finished up our evening huddled around my iPad in the common room of the hostel, watching Jimmy Fallon videos on YouTube. Everyone needs a lazy night in sometimes ;).

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Day 15: Belorado to Villafranca

Distance walked: 7.4 miles
Artist of the Day: Enya, Enya, and more Enya

This morning, the hostel was playing Enya on repeat. When I awoke, I decided to repeat the initial stress-relieving decision that I had made in St. Jean: I would send my pack ahead to San Juan de Ortega, the town just past the series of three hills shown on my map. This would reduce the strain on my hip and feet. I also made a hotel reservation via Skype for a private room in a casa rural in town there, thus eliminating another stay in a cold monastery. Good. It was done. I packed my daypack, left my big pack on the hostel lobby floor for pickup, then set out.

I ran into Colin, Kris, and Jasmin at a local fruit market in the square: they were only planning to walk as far as Villafranca, the town located before the hilly section. I was kind of bummed that I would be missing them yet another day.

Leaving town alone, I could not get out of my funk. I was lonely and grumpy and tired, even though I had slept well in the hostel. And not even an hour’s walk out of Belorado, my left hip muscle started acting up again. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I groaned. I looked at the map: I still had over 12 miles to go to get to San Juan. Not gonna happen. I realized that I would have to stay in an intermediate town, but that would mean trying to track down my bag, which was already destined for San Juan. Then there was my hotel reservation. As I entered the next town, I looked for a bar or albergue with wifi so that I could call on Skype to change my plans.

Of the three establishments in town, all were closed. Happy Monday!

I grumbled, but was within hearing distance of Isobel and Roger, a very nice couple from England. They offered to help me, but we would need to get to the next town, only a short walk away. I explained to them my situation; it turned out that they, too, had planned to walk to San Juan that day but were worried because they had not been able to find a room. Hmmm, I thought. I might be of use here. We walked together to the next town, Villambistia, and found a cafe; I logged into the wifi and called my hostel, where the hospitalero informed me that my bag had already been picked up. Shoot. Over the next half hour, I was able to track down my bag, have it rerouted (for a price, but hey, a girl needs her toothbrush!) to Villafranca, which was a walkable distance even with my hip, and transfer my reservation in San Juan to Isobel and Roger. All in Spanish :). The couple were very relieved to have a place to stay, so they kindly treated me to a cafe con leche. And while I was sipping it, who came strolling into town but Kris, Jasmin, Colin, and Lukas.

I was so happy.

Within minutes, we were joking around as usual, and I instantly felt better. We walked together into Villafranca, where we stayed at a private albergue attached to a hotel, drank lots of sangria while listening to a bizarre amount of Enya in the hotel lounge, and enjoyed a great menu del dia at the hotel restaurant.

I had really missed my friends.

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“And when Mr. Mertle asked how long he had to keep the dog chained up like a slave, the police chief said, ‘FOR-EV-ER. FOR-EV-ER.'”

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Day 14: Grañon to Belorado

Distance walked: 9.8 miles
Song of the day: None: nowhere to charge Ipod

This morning, after a simple breakfast of coffee and bread, I was packing my backpack when I heard an altercation outside. I looked out the window: a bearded man in shorts, surrounded by two dogs, was screaming up at the wall of the monastery, and screamed responses were following from somewhere above me in the building. As the man in the courtyard continued to bellow, the sound of the upper man’s voice gradually became muffled, then clearer but farther away: I then saw my Spanish cyclist roommate marching out of the monastery doorway below and making a beeline for the first man, who now held a can of dog poo in his hand and a cigarette in the other. They shrieked at each other in heated Spanish, faces inches apart and red in anger. I’m not entirely sure about the specific details of their argument, but I think my roommate had made a snide comment about the other man’s dogs defecating in the courtyard of the monastery, and then that man had threatened to throw the poo in his face. Or something like that.

“Oh Santi,” I cooed to the kitten who was falling asleep in my lap. “Your daddy is a hothead, isn’t he?”

My departure from the hospital was postponed slightly because Santiago chose to settle down and nap in the middle of my backpack on the floor while I was brushing my teeth. That cat. So damn cute.

What a miserable morning. Wet and gloomy, and so cold that you could see your breath in front of you. Most of the landscape was covered by a thick fog, so not a great time for photos. I was able to get a photo near the marker which showed that we were passing from the wine region of La Rioja into Castilla Y Leon, the region which will make up the greatest part of the Camino.

I had planned to walk all the way to one of the smaller villages closer to the base of the Montes de Oca, but pain intervened. I was walking along when I felt a stabbing pain in my left hip flexor. I kept going, because so often little pains come and go; this one eventually subsided as well.

Drinking large amounts of water to stay hydrated on the Camino can sometimes be a problem because my bladder is approximately the size of a walnut and bathroom facilities – or sufficiently private natural areas- can be hard to find. This was one of those situations where the road was long and shrubless and next to a highway and there was NOWHERE TO GO and I was dying. Then I saw an upcoming clump of bushes at the side of the path. I looked ahead: pilgrims far ahead. I looked back: pilgrims far away. No approaching cars. I threw myself behind the bushes, flung off my backpack, and was done before the upcoming cars knew what was happening.

And then when the backpack came back on, so did the hip pain. With a vengeance. Sigh. There was no way that I’d make it past Belorado today. I limped into Belorado and towards the most loudly advertised hostel I’ve ever seen. It was like the Disneyland of hostels. I stopped for lunch there but decided to stay elsewhere.

My hostel, Cuatro Cantones, was new and had a great restaurant. I shared a dinner table with a group of travelers from several different countries, but I was not in the greatest mood. I was frustrated with all my injuries, annoyed that my walk was so limited today, and just cranky in general. Even the piece of blood sausage in my soup could not cheer me up. I had no choice but to just sleep it off and hope that I would come up with a better plan tomorrow.

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Day 13: Azofra to Grañon

Distance walked: 13.9 miles
Song of the day: a shuffled playlist on my dying iPod, which randomly included Thom Yorke, Timbaland, Blitzen Trapper, and OutKast. Oh, and earlier, the sugar beet song.

This morning I ate a big portion of leftover risotto for breakfast and then headed to the nearby cafe to check my email and get a coffee. As I sat, I looked at the subject of a forwarded email in disbelief:

“Found lost camera with photos- can you identify subject?”

What followed was a description of a found camera in Ipswich, MA. The camera was found by the side of the road near Crane Beach by a couple walking there. They guessed that the camera had been there since September since that was the date of the last photos taken on the memory card. The camera itself was in bad shape, but they were able to view all of the photos, which included numerous travel and baby photos. They only clue that they could find as to the owner of the camera was from a photo of a female cyclist who completed the NYC Century Bike Tour: her race number was clearly visible on her bib. This couple emailed the race director from the NYC Century ride to see if she could track down the rider with that bib number.

I had bought a new Canon point-and-shoot in August 2013. Within a few days, I took it with me on my trip to Washington D.C. and New York City, where I stayed with friends and family along the way. I did the NYC Century Ride (or, 40 miles of it, sick as a dog and in a Sudafed-enabled haze) the weekend after Labor Day. And I hiked at Crane Beach with my friends the following weekend. When I returned home, there was no sign of my new camera. I was devastated. I searched all over for it. It was not just the loss of a new camera (which – although expensive- could still be replaced). On it were photos of hiking with my friends and their baby girl in D.C.; of my cousin Judy and me walking her daughters to the school bus in Virginia; of my German friend sitting in Prospect Park with her newborn baby in the sunset. It broke my heart to know that those captured memories were gone. So to hear after eight months that someone had found it… well, I sat there in the cafe in Azofra, sobbing with joy into my cafe con leche.

The Camino provides.

The blister surgery that Lynn provided last night did the trick. It was the first night in a long time that I could sleep without pain from accidentally bumping my heels against the mattress. Along with some ibuprofen and making sure to drink a lot of water, my feet felt better today than they have in days.

In the morning, I walked quite a ways with Gian Carlo from Italy. We spoke in a mixture of his iffy English and my iffy Italian. We passed through fields of greens. “Zucchero. Azucar” he said. “But not the top. Under.”

“Oh!” I answered. “Yes: sugar beets.”

And then this was stuck in my head for the next two hours:

We stopped for a snack break at a “rest stop” with surprisingly comfortable cement chaise lounge chairs. Gian Carlo declined my offer of dinosaur cookies because he had a carrot to eat. He was cracking me up because he kept saying the Italian version of “What’s up, Doc?” while gnawing on his carrot.

The road to Santo Domingo de la Calzada floated in a sea of green wheat fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. After a lunch stop in Santo Domingo, I pushed myself to make it to the next small town, Grañon, where I heard that the monastery offered a really interesting place to stay. I came upon it none too soon, since the sky was darkening and rain was beginning to fall.

The place, I learned from Mike, the American volunteer there, wasn’t an albergue, but instead a hospital, which not only offers a place to sleep (30 or so mattresses on the floor of a large room) for pilgrims, but historically has fed them and – being attached to the local church- catered to their spiritual needs. It is donation-only.

I threw my backpack down onto one of the many mattresses in the main room and began the process of unloading my belongings for the night. A tiny orange and white striped kitten came out from beneath a table and headed in my direction. Thinking that he belonged to the monastery, I was surprised that he bounded right up to the air bed on my neighbor’s mattress and began to play. Like I’ve said in previous posts, I’ve never considred myself an animal person, but this little guy was so cute.

My neighbor soon returned, a Spaniard who was completing the Camino by bike, having started in his home town of Girona. Here, he had found the kitten abandoned at the beginning of the journey and had been carrying him along on his bike for the last week.

The kitten had been named Santiago.

Other than a very warm and friendly group dinner provided by the hospital in their main room (pilgrims from each nationality were asked to sing a song from their country for the rest of the group), most of my time was spent playing with little Santi, who amazingly in the last week had been trained to take care of his business on the Spaniard’s sleeping bag. When I returned from dinner, I found Santi mewing in terror on the mattress. I didn’t realize what was happening until he squatted down and produced an enormous pile of you-know-what right in the middle of the bag. He then tried to drag the sides of the mat to cover his work. I scooped up the mess with a plastic bag-covered hand and tried to explain to the Spaniard what had happened when he returned, “Uh, señor, tu gato uso el baño en tu saco de dormir.” Completely nonplussed, he thanked me, wiped up any remnants with a wet cloth, then threw Santi into the sleeping bag, where he created a wandering lump beneath the covers for the next few hours.

Getting the cat to actually sleep when the rest of us slept was another issue. Pilgrim bedtime = kitten playtime. Santiago would scamper around the room, climbing into people’s bags and then ripping Kleenex into shreds with glee. The Spaniard basically had to throw him into a headlock under his arm to keep him in place. I covered myself with all the clothes I owned (monasteries do not make for the warmest bedrooms), tried to ignore the cat’s shuffling beside me, and went to sleep.

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Day 12: Ventosa to Azofra

Distance walked: 10.5 miles
Song of the day: Ummm…chanting? iPod not charged

We were awakened this morning at 6am by the sound of soft Gregorian chanting. That may sound cheesy, but you have no idea how much nicer it is to wake up to something soothing like that than to the jarring military-like approach of “lights on!” at six in the morning.

After a quick coffee and croissant, I was off. The morning was mostly sunny and cold, but in the distance dark clouds were visible. As I looked out over the valley ahead, I could see the wall of rain approaching. It started full force, and soon my pants were completely saturated. I was grateful for the wind, because it helped to dry the pants out! I looked to the right while passing through an industrial area and noticed an Italian man taking shelter in one of the pipes. He grinned and waved me on. A ray of hope was a building on a distant hill that shone white in the sun. Hooray! The rain wouldn’t last long.

The sun came out shortly before I arrived in Nájera. I bought a coffee and some snacks (including dinosaur cookies! I haven’t seen those in 20 years!) and continued on through the town, which had a picturesque bridge over a river with imposing red cliffs on the opposite side. I decided to visit the cathedral of Santa Maria la Real. The legend goes that a Spanish king was out hunting with his falcon, which chased a partridge into a cave. Inside the cave, the king saw a vision of the Virgin. He later had a monastery built on the site as an offering to her; this later became a Benedictine monastery. I checked out the cloisters and crypt with Daniela, another Italian pilgrim. It was incredible, and I’m glad I took time out of the day to make the visit.

The afternoon was windy and sunny heading out of Najera. I noted the presence of “To Santiago” kilometer markings, erected by the local La Rioja government. Kris and Jasmine like these, but I found them almost discouraging. It’s much better for me to walk ignorant of my distance than to continue on and on and then say, “Are you kidding me??? That was only 4 kilometers?”

My daily trek ended in the town of Azofra, which had a municipal hostel consisting of cubicle-like rooms with two beds apiece: what a luxury! Not so luxurious: tepid shower water and lack of heat. Mid-afternoon, I was shivering so much in my room that I started to think, “I’m freezing my Az-of, ra-mind me why I decided to stay here?” There was also the blanket incident. I reached up into my cubicle’s upper shelf to grab a heavy wool blanket that was stored up there. Along with it came down a pair of women’s dirty underwear. Ewwww. Upon cursory inspection of the blanket, I found what would best be described as a crust of something. Ew ew ew. I flung the blanket back up. Not impressed with this place.

The town, like several others we have passed through, seemed only to survive because the Camino runs through it. Half of the buildings looked closed or for sale, and most of the businesses we saw were either bar-restaurants or grocery stores catering to pilgrims. I suppose many of the people who live there are out working the fields or vineyards during the day, but the place felt deserted.

Unenthused by the prospect of another meat-and-bread-based pilgrim menu, my new Australian friend Vanessa and I decided to make use of the ample hostel kitchen and cook our dinner. We stopped to buy groceries from a small market with the nicest and most practical owner imaginable. Vanessa and I were cooking for 3, maybe four people. We did not need an entire bottle of oil, a whole package of rice, or a 12-pack of chicken bouillon, nor did we have the desire to carry the leftovers in our pack. The friendly shopkeeper let us open packages and buy only the amount that we needed. So smart!

The result of two hours of painstaking stirring was an awesome vegetable and chickpea risotto with herbs that Vanessa had found along the path that day. (This sounded gross at first until I realized that they were probably both fresher and cleaner than anything I could get at a supermarket). Along with her husband John, we ate heartily, and less expensively than at any restaurant.

The evening ended with a massacre at The Twins. I can’t say that it was Red Wedding caliber, but Big Mama met her final demise, both of the offending parties on my heels were impaled, and any remaining blisters were cut down. Lynn did a magnificent job of dressing the wounded. I would have to inspect the carnage the next morning.

(Can you tell how much I am missing Game of Thrones?)

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