Day 7 - Los Arcos to Logrono
“Dein Gebuertstag?” beams the pretty German girl opposite me at breakfast, nudging her father to join her in singing “Happy Birthday to You”. It’s a cheering start to the day, and once I meet Leah outside the town’s church I’m further pleased to discover that somehow I’ve finally acquired the knack of walking effectively with two poles.
We move faster than we’ve done any day so far, striding through the landscape as the sun beats down, and after lunch in beautiful, medieval Viana, we reach Lograno in mid-afternoon, accompanied by an Irish lady, Angela, who we’d met on the way. Lounging in the hostel’s courtyard we watch the storks flying overhead and sip our beers as we chat with a trio of New Zealanders before Leah and Swiss Fabian disappear; while they’re gone David and Christa phone from Viana, giving me my second “Happy Birthday to You” of the day.
Puzzled and somewhat irked by the others’ absence, I chat with Angela and the Kiwis as they have dinner, and then slip outside to visit the nearby church, marvelling at the agonisingly realistic crucifix in a side chapel. I meet the others while I’m taking pictures outside, and am then both delighted and embarrassed when they produce a birthday cake in the hostel, leading Kiwis, Italians, and Japanese in the day’s third rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”.
After dinner in town we’re met by Spanish Carlos and a couple of the others, and though there’s only half an hour to play with before the hostel’s curfew kicks in I’m only too happy to follow Carlos to a little street full of tiny wine and tapas bars, there to make the most of that wonderful half hour. As birthdays go, it’s not been a bad one.
Day 8 - Logrono to Najere
At more than 30k, today’s an even longer day than yesterday, and not one helped by starting tired. It’s a long, draining, dispiriting trudge, with a constant threat of heavy rain, and when we finally reach Najere there’s an exhausted couple of kilometres through the town before we cross the bridge to the hostels.
Scarcely are my boots off before my teeth start chattering, and I begin to shiver. I drag out my sleeping bag and get into it as quickly as I can, but for the next hour or so I’m less coherent than usual; the sudden drop in body temperature after such an arduous and damp day is taking a toll. Hearing all the hot water’s gone, I decide this probably isn’t the time for a cold shower, so when I warm up a bit I get dressed afresh and go out to join the others for dinner. The hot, paprika-laden red bean stew I have as a first course is all the medicine I need, and as we sit around talking before bed, it’s almost as if I’ve been fine all evening.
Day 9 - Najere to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
The wine-purple clay path up out of Najere looks rugged and promises a day of beautiful views, but today’s is a grey and tedious walk, and when we get to Santo Domingo we’re only too glad of an early dinner. I’ve arranged to meet Javier, a charismatic stick-twirling Spaniard, at that evening’s pilgrim Mass, and the others come along too; none of us, I think, is prepared for the sheer dazzling beauty of the ceremony, with the small choir singing pieces by Handel and Mozart and with Holy Communion being accompanied by a hymn to the tune of ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ from The Mission.
As for the concert that followed, you’ve not lived till you’ve heard choral versions of ‘My Way’ and ‘Danny Boy’ in Spanish.
Day 10 - Santo Domingo to Tosantos
The dynamic of the group has changed in recent days, and walking’s felt like a macho charge, so I say my goodbyes to Leah this morning, planning on walking alone; instead, though, I get talking to the New Zealand trio from Logrono, and end up walking with two of them, one going ahead by bus, carrying an injured foot.
Most pilgrims operate in line, more or less, with a book, and as English speakers we carry John Brierley’s one. Today, for the first time, we go beyond Brierley’s designated stage, thinking we should get a start on what looks like a challenging day tomorrow. It proves an inspired decision, as Tosantos sees my Camino change gear radically.
The village is tiny, and at the little local bar we meet the wildly gesticulating Javier and, it would seem, half the village’s eighty inhabitants. Communal dinner in the albergue is followed by a prayer session upstairs in the little oratory, and then a singsong masterminded by a Frenchman named Paschal, armed with a miniature guitar and a seemingly inexhaustible array of songs in languages as diverse as Polish and Basque. It’s an astonishing evening, and one that sends me to bed glowing.
Day 11 - Tosantos to San Juan de Ortega
Brierley’s book seems to have made today look a lot more challenging than it really is, as despite his topographic outline, today seems devoid of a third steep climb, instead featuring a long flat stroll through woods that seem to go on forever. It’s a glorious day, and we’re still fresh as we stroll down towards the hamlet of San Juan del Ortega.
With just twenty inhabitants, San Juan consists of little more than a beautiful church, a monastery that’s now a hostel, and a bar, so after the standard rituals of shower and laundry the afternoon is whiled away in front of the latter with the other pilgrims including a clutch of Americans and Jeanne, an unfeasibly tall New Zealander I’d first met outside Estella when she’d asked me to take a photo of her by the nearby wine fountain, and who tells us all of King Juan Carlos’s abdication.
Rather than Mass, there’s a short service and pilgrim blessing in the church, and dinner is a mixture of chicken pie, salad, and black pudding, the latter being very much the area’s signature dish. As the sun sets, and we fall asleep laughing at the bizarre snoring in the dorm, I think this may just have been the best day so far.
Day 12 - San Juan to Burgos
Hannah, Jeremy, and I accumulate people as the day goes on; Chris from Missouri joins us after breakfast, where he’d read to us about how we’d be passing Europe’s earliest known human settlement, and at lunch we’re joined by Stephen, a Canadian discerning a vocation to the priesthood. By early afternoon we’re into the vast industrial estates outside Burgos and it seems an age before we reach the city’s historic heart, there to meet Briony, still limping a bit, but doing much better than when she’d left Santo Domingo.
With all the hostels full, we’re somehow able to get a hotel room with five beds, and suitably showered we stroll out; after Mass at the city’s astonishing gothic cathedral, I join the others for dinner, before Carlos helps us take advantage of the lack of a curfew to sample the local nightlife. After a succession of bars we get back late, but it’s the first time since I’ve started the Camino that I fall asleep to a soundtrack other than snoring.
Day 13 - Burgos
Today’s plan to visit Calleruega, birthplace of St Dominic, is scuppered when Stephen establishes that getting there would entail two buses and a five kilometre walk, with us not being able to return until tomorrow morning. Instead we while away our first rest day ambling about in Burgos, and after the evening’s pilgrim Mass meet up with a host of other pilgrims, ranging from the likes of Carlos and Susan who’d arrived in Burgos yesterday to others who’d caught up and arrived today, notably David and Christa, who I’d not seen in a week, with Leah appearing to join us for as long as she could.
On the Camino a week feels like a lifetime, and with so much to catch up on, dinner’s an emotional affair, as is the subsequent session, complete with shameless dancing, in a nearby pub. It bodes well for tomorrow, when we set off into the Meseta.
Part III continues tomorrow.
Greg Daly travelled with Camino Ways www.caminoways.com. Tel: 353 (0)1-525-28-86.