Logroño > Nájera > Santo Domingo de la Calzada
September 15 – 16, 2017
It was incredibly hard to leave that super comfy bed at El Espolón the next morning but we knew we had a long day ahead. We had booked a pensión in Nájera, Calle Mayor, which was more reasonable in price but also not as nice. Also it was 18 miles away. The sun was well above the horizon when we set out to take a quick picture with the walking pilgrims statue. A girl there offered to take our picture and we tried to mirror the walks of the peregrinos. I think it came out pretty good. She also asked us if we hard started in Pamplona. She had also started in SJPDP and didn’t recognize us. But there are a damn lot of us this year so I don’t really know why she would expect to know everyone.
Early on we ran into Eric from the albergue in Urdantiz and he and I carried on a simple conversation in Spanish. We talked about how we both got a late start, him because he was at a party the night before, us because of a comfy bed. A cyclist goes by and I commented that I wish I had one today. He said it would be a good day for it as the terrain is mostly flat. Before long I realized Vanessa had fallen behind. She was probably not so interested in trying to eavesdrop a convo she couldn’t understand and Eric wanted to walk on a bit faster so we said our goodbyes.
We found ourselves in what seemed like a neverending park, which is a much nicer way to exit a city than we usually got. It wound its way through to a reservoir with a terrifying amount of catfish, some swans, and other water fowl. We sat ad prepared our lunch next to the giant blue reservoir that seemed to go on forever. There are strict notes in our books and apps that pilgrims are not to bathe in it and that makes sense but the endless cerulean really does look inviting. Autumn has been hotter than anticipated in Spain in contrast to my soggy August and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. But at that moment I was just thankful for our constant companion the baguette, which had come to be a character both in Vanessa’s backpack and in our instagram pictures (which surely have published weeks before this post will go live). We’d gotten fairly used to the dry way that Spaniards also prepare sandwiches or bocadillos but I was glad I nabbed a few olive oil packets days before from the mediocre hostel in Villava.
The park said goodbye to us with a dark pink rose that has been named for the way of St James. The path after was ore barren and foreboding with a giant bull that loomed over the highway landscape. This 35 foot high monster survived a purge of signage that has seen almost all freeway advertisementing disappear here. I appreciated that but it also lent itself to a loosely apocalyptic vibe as we walked on sandy colored rock strewn ground next to a chain link fence where hundreds of pilgrims had fashioned makeshift crosses through the rungs. Most are made of sticks but any found material would do including yarn or ribbon now grey with age and dirt.
When we came across the ruins of medieval pilgrims hospital it fits right in. Not much is left of it but behind rose a huge commercial wine complex. You could still vaguely see the giant bull in the distance.
The monotony was broken by the odd cute if somewhat rundown village here and there filled with stone houses and bright green doors as well as the occasional pop of purple from a bunch of grapes. I had to steal one here and there for morale…they were so delicious.
When we came across a sign that says 593km to Santiago and I couldn’t decide if it was heartening or depressing. Same feeling as we stop at a field of yellow grass dotted with picnic tables and empty gazebos. We had chorizo on baguette. No more oil but the chorizo was at least greasy enough to coat the bread a bit. We trudged on.
By the time we got to the weird round stone hut that neither V’s guidebook nor my app provided any information on besides its existence we are exhausted and joked about just bedding down inside. The wind was howling by then and brushing more dust into our faces but we were also so close. V gave me a lollipop and I felt like I could go on.
We finally entered Nájera and saw lots of teens in alternating colored overalls and even though I remember that there is supposed to be a town festival that night I still seemed a little odd. We checked into the pension that also had an albergue room and even though it wasn’t nearly as nice as our place the night before I was glad we had our own room for fairly cheap even with the shared bathroom. On the way in we ran into Brad and annoyed our hospitalera as we joyfully reunited in the street in front of the building she was showing us to. He was staying at the giant donativo albergue around the corner but said he would be eating pilgrims dinner at the restaurant at the end of our street as it was supposed to be the best at only 10 euro. We did catch up with him there later but didn’t get to sit together which was sad. But it was a small restaurant filled almost entirely with pilgrims and there was a lot of cross table talk. We got so chatty with one pair of women a bit older than ourselves across the way that we ended up carrying our dessert over to their table.
Rose and Laurie were cousins of Portuguese descent, raised in New Jersey who had lost touch but reconnected and were on this journey together. They were very sweet and we became instant friends. Laurie had also explained that they had initially lost touch when she got married and had kids while Rose…had not. We wondered about it then but only later learned that our suspicions were correct and that Rose was gay. Though she didn’t have children of her own her partner Ann did and Rose seemed to play the part of Grandparent quite happily. Finally we had found another gay person on the trail! Well actually we had already but wouldn’t find that out until the next day.
The next morning was chilly and I used my new knit beanie for the first time as we set out. As we climbed the hill out of town with some predawn mist still clearing and a terraced red rock formation towering behind us it felt like real hiking. At the top of the hill was a sweet little rest spot with stone lounges and a woman in a van selling goodies.
We stopped here and met 2 Norwegian ladies and a German girl named Annika who was hiking a portion of the trail for the second time. She had actually done several camino routes including the north, which had captivated me when I looked at pictures in a book in Powell’s back home.
We arrived at Santo Domingo de Calzada that day at a decent time as it wasn’t nearly as long a day as the one before. This was a small town with a big myth, that of the “hanged innocent” which tells the tale of the son of German pilgrims who, while passing through the town refused the advances of the innkeeper’s daughter. The spurned girl then planted a silver from the church on him and told the authorities to sentenced him to hang for his crimes. His parents continued their pilgrimage and when they came back through they found him alive and well, still hanging, his weight held up by the saint. The authorities, however, claimed that he was no more alive than the chickens they were roasting whereupon said chickens awoke and squawked about also alive and well.
What this means in the present is that the cathedral, another large and ornate one with small museum attached that we toured, also houses 2 chickens in a small chapel high above the pews. As if the original legend wasn’t enough it is also said that if the rooster crows while you are in the church you will complete your pilgrimage to Santiago. If not, I suppose, you might have other things in store. They are hard to see so high up, which is why I don’t really have any good pictures, and we had waited long enough trying to catch a glimpse and were just about to go when we heard him call out in the background. Or at least I’m pretty sure. Either way V sent clothing on to Santiago so we better get there one way or another.
Here we stayed at our first parochial albergue run by the oldest brotherhood on the Camino. Santo Domingo was instrumental in creating facilities and hospitals for medieval pilgrims and more of a good guy than we will come to learn Santiago was himself. It was large and clean and felt just like a municipal but maybe a little nicer. And it turned out that both Brad and Eric were staying there. We laughed especially when we discovered that Eric was in the bunk above mine. It finally felt like maybe we were starting to have a little trail crew, even if we could barely talk to Eric.
But as we were making dinner V exchanged social media info with Brad which led to her talking about being gay. “Me too,” he said and we were overjoyed to have met our first fellow queer confirmed. Our gaydar had been a bit off in Spain, ages and cultures are different and hard to read through and besides that we were all pretty much wearing all the same gear from about 5 of the same international outdoor gear companies. Brad was a very tall and slender but not too lanky scruffy handsome man specimen with long dark hair mostly in a bun. He didn’t not look gay but he also looked like he could be in any outdoor catalog or Portland coffeeshop so we needed this verbal confirmation.
That night I had weird dreams. In truth the Camino has produced several nights of strange thoughts but that night was a particularly intense episode of CSI Northern Spain wherein we were examining a group of frozen killers only to realize (too late of course) that just because they were frozen they weren’t dead and they managed to somehow unfreeze themselves and escape. It was quite scary and the killers did throw a dead body through a window but it was also kind of anticlimactic. The next morning Vanessa correctly analyzed that it was simply a manifestation of hearing the myth of the town multiple times, which explains why it was so creepy but not necessarily as terrifying as you would expect. Maybe this is a mediocre metaphor for my experience of Catholicism on this trek so far? But I’m probably just reading too far into it.