Getting Our Camino Legs | Days 7 to 13

After the first six days of hiking, through the pain of tired and sore feet, muscles, arms, shoulders, etc. we were gaining speed, for a minute or so anyway. We had some great 20+ kilometer days which kept us motivated to keep it up. The Navarre region of Spain is beautiful and the weather was lovely, especially in the early morning. We especially enjoyed the sounds of cowbells on sheep, cows and horses, often joking that they must bell everything from cats to cattle.

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September 1 | Day 7

Puenta la Reina to Estella

Stats | Hiked: 21.9 kilometers; Weather: warm and clear; People Met: 1; Time on Trail: 8h/30m

Route: We left Puenta la Reina by passing under the connecting arch between the Iglesia del Crucifijo and the Padres Reparadores then crossing over the beautiful bridge, its origins dating to the 11th century. We then followed the route on a gentle climb into Maneru, passing the ruins of the Monasterio Bogota, 13th century. The village of Maneru is linked to the Knights Templar who were active in this area during the Middle Ages. The views of the valley behind us were gorgeous.

Then continuing along the natural path into Cirauqui, where we stopped for coffee, cafe con leche – yummy stuff, a medieval hilltop town. We noticed along this part of the journey that ALL towns were built on hills, hence all the climbing to get anywhere! Continuing on we past under the archway that marks the end of town and out onto what the guidebook called “one of the best examples of Roman road on the Camino” – now I must admit we always read the guidebook for the next day’s hike and were anticipating this section of the trail. That was until we actually got on the “best example of Roman road” and realized that Roman’s built the road 3,000 or so years ago and nobody has maintained it in all those years. It was, to put it mildly, an ankle turning nightmare!

[There are many times that one of us had issues with the guidebook’s descriptions – the Roman road was one, the gently rolling hills of this section of the Camino was another. What Mr. Brierley considers a “rolling hill” is anything under 1,000 meters high, my idea of a gentle hill is more around 100 meters, we spent plenty of time laughing about Brierley’s views of the Camino and our own.]

Leaving the 3,000 year old Roman road, we stopped for lunch on the Puente Medieval which crosses the “River of Death” (our name for it) or rio Salido (Salt River). There is an epic journal by Aymeric Picaud that tells a horrifying story of what befell animals that drank from its waters. We took a nice long break, watching people cooling off in the river and saying hello to people we recognized before heading down into Lorca.

While passing through Lorca we took a moment to appreciate the beautiful, Iglesia San Salvador, 12th century, that is built from a beautiful beige stone. Lorca is a historic pilgrim town like so many in this region, but with only 450 people it didn’t take long to hike right through.

We then headed toward Villatuerta, passing through farmland and the site of an ancient pilgrim hostel founded in 1066 – there wasn’t really anything to see though – finally reaching Villatuerta which is a very, very small town but at least this one wasn’t on top of a large hill. There was, of course, still a hill just not as steep as some of the earlier ones. We stopped in Villatuerta when we found the community center had a bar and sat down to enjoy a cold beer, running into Jim from the Jakue Hotel the night before. He was stopping for a swim in the pool, it was a very hot day. We finally reached Estella, very sore and very tired and stopped at the first place that had room, the municipal albergue, Hospital de Peregrino. The municipal albergue hospitaliero took one look at the two of us and gave us spaces on the ground floor, usually reserved for those who are injured and cannot climb stairs, we really did look quite pitiful. This particular albergue is one that will allow those who are injured to stay more than one night, the general rule is you are only allowed one night in an albergue or town at the pilgrim rate for a bed.

We got unpacked and showered, then Tracy watched the laundry and massaged her feet while Alan went in search of sustenance. He came back a while later, without food, and suggested a short walk (over a really tall bridge) to a small restaurant that he found.

The meal was by far one of the very best we enjoyed while on Camino, a chef salad with everything from raisins to nuts to goat cheese, the main course was cordero and potatoes, dessert was something chocolate and yummy but the name escapes me, a bottle of red wine, and when the waiter forgot to bring our after-dinner espresso, the bartender brought over something similar to limoncello, called patxaran, like a sloe gin but with a citrusy flavor that is popular in the Basque Country of Navarre. Helen (New Zealand), whom we met at the albergue also joined us for dinner.

While I am loath to admit it, I was beat and tired and my toes were so blistered, that we didn’t do much sightseeing after dinner and opted to hang out on the patio (with my feet up in an empty chair) and chat with Jennifer, who we ran into on our return. She was staying on one of the upper floors with all the healthy people! The day really improved after and hour or so in her company.

Sites: Medieval bridge and River of Death; the 3,000-year-old Roman [and unmaintained!] road; Iglesia San Salvador, 12th century

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September 2 | Day 8

Estella to Villamayor de Monjardin

Stats Hiked: 9.6 kilometers; Weatherwarm and clear; People Met: 3; Time on Trail: 5h/20m

Route: Even though we hiked out of Estella in the early morning, and that usually meant we would be able to hike a nice, long day, we had to take it very, very slow today. Tracy’s feet were in pretty rough shape, and she was wincing with each step. Alan tried to talk her into staying in Estella but she was adamant that we continue, slowly, plus today was the day we would pass the famous Wine Fountain.

We set out for Villamayor de Monjardin a little less than 10 kilometers away. Leaving Estella through the medieval city gate, Puerta de Castilla. We made it to Ayegui by sun up, roughly 2 kilometers from where we started, and crossed the N-111 without issue, it was too early even for cars.

Just a ½ kilometer or so from the highway was the Bodegas Irache and the famous Wine Fountain. We had been looking forward to this since first planning our adventure. Taking out our saved water bottle (normally you would just fill up in your scallop shell, but ours were small so we filled a small water bottle about half way rather than try to fill our small shells and risk getting wine all over ourselves). While waiting our turn, there were some girls from the UK in front of us, plus a few guys who had noticed the cute UK girls. Once they had taken their turn, the girls started singing, “I Will Survive [the Camino]” – the three of them were hysterically funny. Noticing that Tracy was limping, they would turn and sing directly to her, changing the lyrics to “you will survive” and causing laughter all around. After everyone had a turn, or two, we all set out as a group, the UK Choir leading the way. It was one of those perfect Camino moments, it was early morning, the sun just up, a slight chill in the air, and lots of laughter.

The UK Choir and their entourage quickly out-distanced the two of us, but we could hear them for a little while longer, still singing, still laughing, it left a smile on our faces. We stopped in Hotel Irache, a place not a facility, where we found a few picnic tables and took a break to rest Tracy’s feet and wave at other pilgrims who were still smiling and laughing from their own Wine Fountain moment.

From there we continued to the lovely path through pine trees, soft ground [ahh!] and slowly made our way to Azqueta. Along the way we met Lorna (South Africa), well once she finished her FaceTime chat with a friend in Australia. She was telling us that she has friends all over the world would use FaceTime to bring them along on her journey for a short while. We thought that it was a lovely idea.

Just before you enter the little village of Azqueta there is the amazing 13th century Fuente de Los Moros (Fountain of the Moors). It is a large, pool-like fountain with steps carved from the entrance down into the pool, the entire pool is housed with three solid sides and the gorgeous double-arched entrance with columns supporting the arches. This Mozarabic design is one of a kind in this area and dates back to the Moorish control of the region. Its shaded interior was cool and comfortable, we rested here awhile as well.

We passed through the little town of Azqueta without stopping and headed up the steeper path toward Villamayor de Monjardin. While making slow but steady progress up to the city, we had the unique opportunity to watch a shepherd with two working dogs moving his flock. As we got closer we saw the ruins of Castillo de San Esteban (St. Stephen’s Castle) higher up on the hill, we had been seeing this beautiful escarpment in the distance for a couple days, but other than stop for a couple photos didn’t go any closer. It did get on the list for “I’d like to come back just to do that.”

Heading into Villamayor de Monjardin, the first thing we noticed was that there was a little shop and a gazebo with plenty of shade and empty chairs. Alan headed into the shop and grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge and had a chat with the owner, a expat from the UK, who helped him find some boot laces and told him that there were three albergue options in town, the closest one just at the corner of the building.

After refreshing with a cold drink, we made our way to the Villamayor de Monjardin Albergue, a private albergue, and for an additional 5 euro per person treated ourselves to a private room with ensuite bath. We showered and headed downstairs to do laundry only to find out that for 6 euro, they do it for you and return it to your room. We cannot say enough about how great that was especially since by this time we had hiked only 9.7 kilometers but it had taken us nearly 6 hours – we had been averaging about 4 kilometers an hour until this point.

After dropping off our laundry we gingerly made our way back to the gazebo in the plaza (only 100 meters or so) and sat in the shade having another cold drink when Jeffrey and Michelle came hiking up the hill. They spotted us and stopped for a break, they were headed toward Los Arcos, and Alan enticed them to stay a little longer by offering a cold beer. After they left we met another couple stopping for a rest on their way to Los Arcos, Michael and Carol (Australia) and chatted with them a while over another beer. It’s true, we drank a lot of beer on this trip, odd because neither of us are really beer drinkers. But that hot Spanish sun and a cold, cold beer are two things that go very well together.

Before heading up the steps to the restaurant we decided to check out the beautiful church that was right next to the gazebo. San Andres Church was built in the 12th century and its tower can be seen for miles.

We had dinner at the one and only restaurant in town and had Russian Salad for the first time, a cold potato salad with tuna. Tracy really liked it, Alan not so much. We ran into Enzo and Elena after dinner and with our very poor Italian and Elena’s “Camino English” managed to discuss where we were each headed to the following day. Wishing them a warm, “Buona Sera,” we headed back to the albergue and after grabbing the wifi password, went up to our private room. Hopping on the bed and getting off our feet we spent some time talking about our journey to date. By this point in our journey we were meeting people from all over the world, visiting, drinking or sharing a meal together and remarked how wonderful it was that people from all over the globe are united in the same goal, and that part of the beauty of the Camino are the people that you meet on the way.

Sites Visited: Estella’s medieval city gate, Puerta de Castilla; the famous Fuente del Vino (wine fountain) offered by the Bodegas Irache vineyards; Fuente de Los Moros (Fountain of the Moors), 13th century, a double-arched, mozarabic design with open pool; from a distance saw the ruins of Castillo de San Esteban (St. Stephan’s castle); San Andres Church, 12th century and it’s impressive tower.

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September 3 | Day 9

Villamayor de Monjardin to Torres del Rio

Stats | Hiked: 20 kilometers; Weather: hot 91°f (31°c) People Met: 15; Time on Trail: 6h/45m

Route: We started the day in much better physical shape. Tracy’s feet had plenty of time to heal and she was feeling much better. So after a quick breakfast at the albergue, we headed out of Villamayor de Monjardin along the roadway, dropping down from the corner of the church to a vineyard and out onto a small wooded area towards Los Arcos.

The first half of our hike today was pretty quiet, just farmland and no real houses or towns. Lots and lots of vineyards with the occasional olive tree orchard and the lovely sunflower crops. Other pilgrims have stopped to design faces and comments by pulling out some of the seeds and florets in the center of the sunflowers. We’ve seen a lot of smiley faces, a few arrows, hearts and “Hi Mom” comments, and one sad face – we figured the designer was probably dealing with blistered feet.

Just a kilometer or so out of Villamayor de Monjardin we came across the ruins of yet another ancient pilgrim hospital, Cugullo. The guidebook is really good at letting you know when you’ll be passing something historic, but today like a few other times, there is more than one dilapidated building on your path and it takes a little brain power to figure out which is the historic site and which isn’t, but I’m pretty sure we guessed right, but there aren’t any signs that tell you for certain.

Along the way, we also passed through some nice shady spots until dropping down into a little bit of a valley, the Fuente del pozo de Baurin (Fountain of the Well) was supposed to be right around this area, but I didn’t actually see it.

We continued toward the river, the rio Caudiel, which the guidebook said was dry, but there was a tiny bit of water, and lots of willow (at least I think it was willow, it was pretty tall anyway). We met James (Boulder, CO) while trudging through some of the willow, he had on sandals, his feet too blistered to wear his boots, and had a full beard, his head wrapped in a scarf. A young guy, perhaps mid-20s, limping horribly as he carried one of the largest packs we’d seen, along with a guitar (backpacking style) and music stand swinging from the back.

We walked behind him for a while, the path not wide enough to pass, and chatted with him. He looked like a painting of Christ, the red-brown beard and long-ish wavy hair, with big brown eyes and a nice smile. He was apologizing for walking slow, but we told him not to hurry on our account, we were happy to just keep pace with him.

When we got past the willows and the path widened, he stepped out of our way and we wished him luck as we headed up the gentle climb to the outskirts of Los Arcos, the Portillo de las Cabras, or Pass of the Goats. Upon reaching the top of the goat pass we spotted a few tables and chairs at a self-service pilgrim stop (vending machines) so stopped for a few minutes to have a cold drink, soda this time.

While Alan grabbed a couple of drinks, Tracy chatted with the two older couples sitting together at another table. Verna and Ed (Hawaii); Dick (Hawaii) and his sister, Johanna (Seattle), they were amiable and seemed to be having a great time. Verna said that she remembered seeing us with a group at the Hotel Jakue in Puenta la Reina, and that we appeared to be having a great time — very true, we did have a great time! We call them the “Aloha Group” and they were great hikers. We would see them several times a day for the next few days until they outdistanced us, most everyone did at this point. They would hike strong, then take a break for an hour or so, we would pass them and say hi. They would get back on the trail and pass us again, then we would pass them as they were taking another break. This continued for several days, it was always funny and they each seemed to enjoy finding some clever way to say hello, again.

James finally caught up to us at the self-serve rest area and we couldn’t watch him walk any further. Alan told him to grab a seat and got him a cold drink, Tracy dug through Alan’s pack for the zippy bag full of Aleve to offer some to James. After getting him settled with an anti-inflammatory and a cold drink, plus a zippy bag with more Aleve to take later. He started out again after Alan helped him readjust the pack and all the dangling bits so that it wouldn’t shift so much while he walked. He told us that when he reached the downtown area of Los Arcos he was going to mail some of the extra stuff home to Colorado. We thought that was a brilliant idea.

We finished our chat with the Aloha Group and headed into the city of Los Arcos in search of somewhere to have lunch.

Upon reaching the city center, we spotted a nice plaza full of umbrellas and tables and selected one near the Gargantua restaurant, they had spaghetti carbonara on the menu and it’s a favorite. We ordered and sat outside, taking time to appreciate the beautiful church, Iglesia de Santa Maria de los Arcos. Its 12th century but was embellished in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries so there are elements from the original Romanesque and well as Gothic, Baroque and Classical. It should look hideous, but the results are actually quite stunning, and the bell tower is beautiful. We didn’t take time to look inside, but heard later that the interior was stunning as well from those who had stayed the night in Los Arcos.

Los Arcos is a pretty town, at least the historic district where we passed through, we later read that it has Roman origins and has been a pilgrim stop since its beginning.

After a yummy and filling meal and some nice conversation with fellow pilgrims also carb-loading, we headed out of Los Arcos passing under the Portal Castillo – and stopping for a few photos, it was very pretty – we continued on hoping to make Torres del Rio by the end of the day, still another 8 kilometers away.

As we were making our way out of the city we were crossing the street and Alan found a passport someone had dropped. Not wanting the owner to get to far ahead he took off yelling, “Sorenson!” We caught up with the grateful passport owner while on-lookers were wondering why the crazy American was yelling. The owner, another pilgrim, was from somewhere in Scandinavia but the location escapes me.

We continued on out of Los Arcos, passing the Capilla de San Blas, 13th century, pretty but we didn’t stop. We read later that it construction has been attributed to the Knights Templar.

The next 7 kilometers was more farmland, pretty and quiet. Then we crossed a small stream and headed up to Sansol. The way up was pretty steep and it was getting well into the afternoon heat, so though we were only a kilometer from our destination when we saw a bar at the top of the hill, we stopped for a cold drink. James, feeling better for having lightened his load in Los Arcos, stopped and we bought him a beer. He was telling us about his birthday plans (September 9 and he was trying to get to Burgos to meet some friends who were flying in to celebrate his birthday with him), camping out along the trail to save money, the fall he took which caused the groin pull that had him limping so badly. James was a gentle reminder to ourselves later that when we felt completely done in, that it could be worse and we should be grateful that it wasn’t. Other than a few blisters and a head cold, we really had a pretty easy time of it.

After leaving James to enjoy his beer, we headed out for Torres del Rio, just one short kilometer away. Torres del Rio means towers over the water. What they mean by towers are mountains or at least really tall hills and by water they mean a tiny, baby creek at the bottom of a ravine. So to go the last kilometer, we hiked about 1,000 feet to Sansol, down 1,000 feet to Rio Linares on a bridge about 30 feet long, then up 1,000 feet to Torres del Rio and climbing another 300 feet or so through the narrow city streets to reach the albergue. We were more than ready to stop.

At the albergue, Casa Mariela, we met Fernando, the hospitaliero / bartender / waiter / check out clerk for the small grocery store inside the albergue. He took a liking to Tracy’s name for some reason and kept calling, “Trac-eee!” every time he saw her, which was often after we had dropped our gear and showered. He got our beers and we sat out on the patio while we did laundry (washer and dryer today – woohoo), then hollered for “Trac-eee” when the washer was free, later when the dryer was free and again when he had the dinner tickets ready for our pre-purchased dinner at the restaurant his aunt owned down the street, Casa Lili.

While enjoying our post-hike cold one, we ended up with quite a crowd at our table, Brook (Hong Kong), a Canadian pilot working in Hong Kong, Helen (New Zealand), a travel buff and our bunk mate, another Helen (UK) a solicitor who had just finished a fundraising walk 100 kilometers in two days the day before she flew out to start the Camino; Lee (New Zealand) and her 86 year old mother, Robin (New Zealand); Steven (New York, NY) a medical student interested in doing his residency in San Francisco, and his mom and dad from Connecticut who’s names I never did get; Mike (Ireland) and his 78 year old father who was sleeping; Osa (Norway) who didn’t speak much English but told us about the massive bruise she had due to an earlier fall while wearing her pack.

We all were having such a great time that we decided to continue our conversation and went en masse to dinner where were sat at a large family-sized table, we had a delightful time. Upon returning to the albergue, Fernando welcomed Tracy back with another “Trac-eee!!” sending the group into hysterics.

After leaving the group to their after dinner drinks, we headed over to see the Iglesia de Santo Sepulchro, just up the street from the albergue. Santo Sepulchro is a 12th century church whose octagonal design is attributed to the Knights Templar. It has a very tall cupola with cross-ribbed vaults forming an eight-sided star. The interior was sparse, but the crucifix at the small altar was 13th century and beautiful.

All in all a truly great day.

Sites Visited: designer sunflower fields, ruins of the ancient pilgrim hospital, Cugullo; Portillo de las Cabras, or Pass of the Goats; Iglesia de Santa Maria de los Arcos, 12th century, embellished in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries with elements from the original Romanesque and well as Gothic, Baroque and Classical periods; Portal Castillo in Los Arcos; Iglesia de Santo Sepulchro, 12th century, with an octagonal design attributed to the Knights Templar. The very tall cupola has cross-ribbed vaults forming an eight-sided star. The sparse interior houses a 13th century crucifix.

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September 4 | Day 10

Torres del Rio to Logrono

Stats Hiked: 20.6 kilometers; Weather: humid, clear, 81°f (27°c); People Met: 4; Time on Trail: 6h/40m

Route: We left Torres del Rio after a quick breakfast of juice, café con leche, chocolate croissant, toast and fruit, then headed out of town and up to Ermita de Nuestra Senora del Poyo about 130 meter climb. Poyo apparently means raised platform, and it was a lovely view with Viana and Logrono visible in the far distance.

What poyo should mean is, “oh, crap” which is what most of us were saying upon reaching the summit, the descent was steep, very steep and dropped us into a ravine to cross the Cornava River, which is the site of an ancient settlement according to the guidebook – stands to reason that it no longer exists because the river isn’t there any longer either or at least it was dry when we got there.

We crossed the valley, about 5 kilometers, and then again climbed up a steep hill into the town of Viana. They call them hilltowns for a reason, every town in this area is built on a hill, the views are stunning, but the climbs can really wear you out.

In Viana, there are some really beautiful buildings. One of which, the Iglesia de Santa Maria, 13th century, has a beautiful recessed doorway. Apparently Cesare Borgia was buried here, the guidebook says he’s the illegitimate son of Rodrigo Borgia, who was Pope Alexander VI. In 1492, he was appointed commander of the papal army and worked with both Leonardo di Vinci and Machiavelli, cool. He was banished to Spain after his father died and a new pope was elected. Anyway, they had to rebury him in the cemetery as his tomb inside the church kept getting vandalized, groupies maybe?

After leaving Viana, we dropped back down into the suburbs and from there onto a meadow, of sorts. We had to really watch for the yellow arrows marking the Camino through this area because it used to head out toward the lake but has since been redesigned, easy to get confused.

The meadow was pretty but we read later that it was also an area used for gatherings in the 16th century by witches’ covens. Guess they hadn’t heard about all the burning at the stake action happening back near Bizkerrata.

It was at about this point that we left the region of Navarre and entered into the La Rioja region, famous for its wine and vineyards. Navarre produces some pretty good wines too, we’d been traveling through some pretty big vineyards the last couple of days, we had the opportunity to sample plenty as a bottle comes with the pilgrim menu at dinner. The guidebook had an interesting note regarding enterprising kings and noblemen in the La Rioja region who promoted the Camino here as early as the 11th century as a means of exporting its wines and wares throughout Europe and as a way to attract artists and stonemasons to come and build the great cathedrals, monasteries and monuments along the Camino.

Tracy was wearing down around this point and we still had about 5 kilometers to hike to get to Logrono. As long as we stayed on the natural path is wasn’t too much of a problem, but as we approached the prehistoric city of Cantabria (there are still excavations going on of the Roman and earlier ruins) we quickly ran out of natural path and once we hit pavement Tracy’s heels started hurting something fierce.

The last 2 kilometers were pretty slow going. You don’t realize in your everyday life how harsh the environment is on your feet, but while hiking 20 or so kilometers you get a new appreciation of your natural surroundings.

We (and by this I really mean Tracy) limped into Logrono and got in the very long line for check in at the municipal hostel with its lovely patio and fountain. Once we were checked in and climbed the three flights of stairs to our bunks, showered, repacked, we headed down to the patio do to laundry (washer and dryer today, we liked that!) and have a beer (from the vending machine!). We ran into Jeffrey and Michelle, Michelle was doing some minor surgery on her feet as well*, and they introduced us to some of their new Camino friends, Sara and her daughter, Francesca, (Genoa, Italy). Sara was spending the last night of her Camino for the year and heading back to Italy in the morning. With a few weeks of vacation every year, she’s been working on her Camino for a while. She was telling us that she expects to finish in 2015. Very nice ladies with an excellent command of English, and a lilting Italian accent that was quite charming!

[*Michelle was trying the Camino way of blister care, threading. It involves taking a needle and thread and sewing through and under the blister and leaving the thread in your foot to drain. We opted for traditional blister care and it was probably a better idea for us. The jury is still out on the best method, but some of those we talked to tried the threading and found it created bigger problems.]

After the laundry was finished and put away, we headed into the city in search of tapas. When we stayed at the monastery in Zabaldika, Pepe told us that we should not miss the opportunity to try the tapas in Logrono. Although he’s from Madrid, he swore that Logrono has The Best tapas in Spain, so we went looking for a tapas restaurant. We found tons of them!

Grabbing a seat at the patio in Plaza del Mercado with a view of the impressive Catedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda, 14th century, and it’s beautiful twin towers, we ordered a beer while we decided which tapas restaurant to try. We ran into Steven, the med student from NY, and his mom also tapas shopping and chatted with him for a bit. He told us that his dad was still suffering with the extremely large blisters he had developed so they started busing him to their expected destination each day. Then while he and his mom hiked during the day, dad would get them set up with an albergue for the night. We also talked to a young couple from Atlanta, never did get their names, both nursing injuries and explaining that they were both triathletes back home and didn’t expect the walking to be as difficult on them as it had been, but they were only a few days into their Camino and we told them that it does get better, just listen to your body and don’t overdo.

While we were finishing our drinks we saw the “Namaste Club,” a group of four hikers that we passed a few times the last few mornings doing yoga and stretching exercises in the pre-dawn hours in some rather unusual places. They had just ordered drinks and tapas, but the waiter brought out four empty glasses and left, then three waiters came out carrying a three-foot tall tube about 8 inches in diameter with a spigot at the bottom. They set it all up and the group of four started pouring from the large rotating tube. It appeared to be just regular San Miguel beer, but the presentation was sensational!

We left them to their drinking and wandered back toward the back of the cathedral to a patio area that had some empty tables and a tapas restaurant that had a nice server who waved to us and called out, “Just a momento, be right there!” She was apparently the only one working! Our busy server hustled over with some menus in English, thank you!, and we ordered a selection of tapas and raciones (slightly larger portions of tapas). Pepe did not steer us wrong, Logrono has many great tapas restaurants!

We finished out the evening with a walk along the avenue checking out the many restaurants, bars, and Camino-kitsch stores along the way. Heading back to the albergue, which had a strict be in by 10 pm or get locked out for the night, policy we wandered over to the Iglesia San Bartolome to get a glimpse of the gorgeous 13th century carved porch.

As we got back to the hostel, we spotted Enzo and Elena our friends from Italy and had a brief chat with them about their destination plans for the following day. Enzo and Alan always seemed to be able to communicate their plans for the next days hike though they neither spoke nor understood each other’s language fluently. Elena was always excited to see us and often greeted us with big smiles and a welcoming hug. We are not sure how Elena managed it, but Enzo’s shirts always looked like they had come from the dry cleaners rather than the clothes line, maybe it’s the Italian fabric, but he always looked like he was about to grace the cover of a men’s clothing catalog.

Sites Visited: Iglesia de Santa Maria, 13th century, with its beautiful recessed doorway; Catedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda, 14th century, and its impressive twin towers, La Gemelas (the twins); Iglesia San Bartolome and the gorgeous 13th century carved porch.

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September 5 | Day 11

Logrono to Ventosa

Stats Hiked: 20.4 kilometers; Weather: hot and clear; People Met: 1; Time on Trail: 6h/30m

Route: Although Logrono is a fairly good-sized city, (pop. 145,000) finding our way out of the city was not too difficult. The way is cleverly marked with brass scallop shells imbedded into the sidewalks, but you do need to be on the right side of the street or you loose sight of the shells. The yellow arrows are also present but with all of the other street signage can be difficult to spot.

We managed to get out of the city without getting lost, but there were a couple of instances where we stopped to get our bearings and once when we just followed another group of pilgrims hoping they had spotted a way marker.

Upon leaving the city the trail led us past the Iglesia Santiago Real, 16th century, with its impressive statue of Santiago Matamoros; through Casco Antiguo (Old Town) with its narrow, cobblestoned streets; and through Plaza del Parlamento (Parliament Square) and the impressive façade of a building that has been used for everything from a tobacco warehouse to a convent; past a seating area that looks like a giant’s board game as eight built-in seats look like a set of dice; a really pretty pilgrim’s fountain with the stylized scallop shell adopted by the city of Logrono at the top; and finally under the arched Puerta del Camino (the original pilgrim’s gate). It’s easy to forget in the larger cities that at one time they were all walled fortifications, until you pass under one of the beautiful medieval gates that sometimes are now stand-alone structures.

We crossed over the A-12 freeway, surprisingly busy first thing in the morning and entered into the Pantano de la Grajera, a beautiful park along the reservoir. The guidebook said that there was a nice restaurant open early for pilgrims but we had eaten while in the city not wanting to miss our daily caffeine boost on the off-chance that it wasn’t open when we got there 5.5 kilometers outside the city, a good call on our part as it opened 45 minutes after we past.

The park was really nice, a group of “pedal-grinos” as we came to call the peregrinos on bicycles, were rallying in the park with a large group of about 40 cyclists. There were even intermediate “stamp” offices set up by enterprising folk throughout the park.

[There are many views from peregrinos about having to share the path with those on bikes, from those who don’t notice to those that become hostile when they come up from behind and expect you to move off the trail to let them pass. We were of the mind-set that as long as they let us know they were about to pass that we would make room for them and wish them a “Buen Camino” or “good journey.” We did have a couple of near misses when a cyclist forgot to whistle or beep their horn and we didn’t realize they were right behind us, or the few times they were too close and assumed incorrectly the direction you moved to clear a path for them. Alan almost got ran over twice in situations like that, but other than that most of the cyclists on the traditional trail were amiable and would smile, wave and wish you a “Buen Camino” too.]

Crossing over one of the small wooden bridges we heard an odd sound and looked over the railing to see a large group of what looked to be koi, although I must admit all fish look pretty much the same in a lake to me, opening their mouths waiting to be fed. Apparently the wood bridge over that edge of the reservoir is a prime “pilgrims will feed me” eatery for the lake fish.

Upon leaving the reservoir and park area we began the first of a series of hills we would traverse throughout the day. First crossing the A-68 freeway that connects to the A-12 and passing a chain link fence with thousands of crosses made with a variety of flora stuck into the fencing. Then climbing up Alto Grajera (540 meters) with a scenic view of the reservoir and park at the top. At the bottom, we again crossed the A-12 freeway, busier now but still navigate-able, just beyond the freeway we passed the ruins of San Juan de Acre, a medieval monastery founded in the 12th century to care for Santiago pilgrims. It is situated on the sight of a large vineyard operation that clearly enjoys its location along the Camino. Large signs talk about the winery, the city, the Camino and how many more kilometers to your destination.

We then faced another climb up stone steps to reach the city of Navarrete. This beautiful hilltown is yet another historic Camino town and they have made every effort to maintain the beautiful period structures with carved family crests and armorial shields. The 16th century Church of the Assumption has a stunning façade that is well worth a moment or two to admire. There are also several beautiful bronze sculptures scattered throughout Navarrete depicting the creation and use of ceramic vessels, something that the town was known for during the Middle Ages.

We met an old hippie from California who owned the rock and roll themed café whose has lived in Navarrete for more than a decade. He was a great source of local history. We decided this would be a fun place to stop for lunch.

We ran into Jeffrey and Michelle while dining out on the back patio enjoying the company of a dancing cockatoo. This crazy bird danced wildly every time a song by AC/DC played on the stereo. He would hang upside down from the top of the cage and grab the chain for his perch and shake his head wildly, then leap to the perch and wiggle his tail feathers. Most days I feel the same way when I hear a song by AC/DC.

Following the cobblestone streets to the city’s edge we passed by a cemetery with a beautiful gate, we later learned that the ornate and beautifully carved 13th gate was re-sited from the ruins of the 12th century monastery of San Juan de Arce.

Passing the cemetery, or cemetario, we found ourselves back out onto the rolling hills filled with vineyards. The ground in La Rioja is soft, red clay that is quite comfortable to walk on, and is quite distinctive from that found in the region of Navarre.

Finishing the seven kilometers of vineyards, grapes grows well here but in the late afternoon, the Spanish sun gets very, very warm, we opted to cut the day a little short and headed up a short incline to Ventosa, and the beautiful San Saturnino albergue. After checking in and finding our room, meeting our bunk mate Luke (Canada) [he started his Camino in our home town of Carcassonne because a friend said it would be a sin to go to France and not have the cassoulet in Carcassonne – his friend was right, it’s delicious!], showering and repacking, we went out onto the back patio to do laundry. Finding a washing machine and a dryer was always a ridiculous pleasure, though far more costly than line drying, at least our clothes were always dry for the next day. We packed light and only brought two of everything so daily laundry was a necessity. Thankfully, the albergue had a vending machine that offered both soda and beer, so we indulged ourselves while waiting for the laundry. Jeffrey and Michelle had also checked in, as well as Enzo and Elena. We had a nice time chatting while the machines busily cleaned our clothes.

After the laundry was finished we headed out to see some of the town, it is a small town and other than a pretty little church there wasn’t much else to see. We found a café with an outdoor patio and ordered a cold drink then sat outside on the patio to update our journals and plan the following day’s hike. We constantly had to sit down with the guidebook to adjust our route as some days we felt stronger and some days not so much. We spotted Enzo and Elena ordering a beer and sitting down to do the same re-routing, and asked if they’d like to join us. Alan and Enzo again discussed the best stopping points for the upcoming few days.

Jeffrey had suggested we get together for dinner and there was a restaurant right down the street so Michelle, Jeffrey and the two of us met there for dinner. It was a beautiful restaurant and the food was good, the company was better though.

Sites Visited: Iglesia Santiago Real, 16th century, with its impressive statue of Santiago Matamoros; Plaza del Parlamento (Parliament Square) with its beautiful façade; the pilgrim’s fountain with the stylized scallop shell; Puerta del Camino, the original pilgrim’s gate; Pantano de la Grajera recreation area; flora crosses in the fencing; ruins of San Juan de Acre, a medieval monastery founded in the 12th century to care for Santiago pilgrims; Navarrete bronze sculpture; Church of the Assumption, 16th century, with the awe-inspiring façade.

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September 6 | Day 12

Ventosa to Azofra

Stats | Hiked: 16.2 kilometers; Weather: hot and clear; People Met: 2; Time on Trail: 6h/0m

Route: Leaving Ventosa we rejoined the traditional path, Ventosa is just one kilometer off the traditional Camino route, but still a nice stopping point if you’re not headed all the way to Najera. But don’t believe the café owner is she tells you she’s opening at 7 am for coffee, because that didn’t happen so we had to start our day sans-caffeine – a horrible way to start the day! It had rained the night before and we spent the morning hiking through muddy, mucky, fist-sized loose rock up a hill with water run-off cracks sure to twist an ankle if we didn’t stay alert, our caffeine deprived brains got us through without injury.

After a kilometer or so we came upon a site with stacked rocks or rock altars, lots and lots and lots of them. The pass here is a bit isolated, so we stopped for a moment to add a rock of our own. We’ve seen rocks stacked on everything from tree trunks to road signs, but this place was isolated and distraction free and seemed the perfect place for this odd expression of Camino blessings.

Just a few kilometers from the rock stacks we ran across the monument to Roland, Poyo de Roldan, this was apparently the site of the epic battle between Roland and the Moor, Ferragut. After Roland slew the giant, with a well-thrown rock, he released the captive Christian knights of Charlemagne’s army. Well done, dude.

Near the monument to Roland, the rock thrower, we came across an interesting beehive hut, a type of dwelling similar to those found in Ireland from the Iron Age. This one, if memory serves, was from the Middle Ages, and currently looked as if it were used as a party house for local youngsters. Still a pretty cool building and in better shape than some that we’ve passed.

An hour later, still traveling through vineyards, they don’t call La Rioja the wine region for nothing, we crossed a pretty little footbridge and came to an interesting wall of poetry. The guidebook called it “poeme camino.” We couldn’t read much of the Spanish, Italian, French and German poems, but it was still cool to encounter in the middle of nowhere.

We entered the historic Camino town of Najera. Najera definitely makes it to the top of the list for most beautiful city on the Camino. Though larger than a lot of towns we have passed through it still had that small town feel. Stopping on the outskirts for some much needed breakfast and café con leche, we ran into Michelle and Jeffrey who joined us. We passed the “sports complex” re: bull ring, and the beautiful Monasterio Santa Maria de la Real. Najera was the capital of the Navarre province in the 11th and 12th centuries and the Monasterio’s Royal Pantheon houses the burial site of many of its illustrious kings, queens and knights.

Najera has an imposing cliff, reminiscent of Sedona in Arizona, as a backdrop just beyond the river that runs through town. The original pilgrims gate is in the park alongside the river and can be easily seen from the bridge. According to the guidebook, this lovely city is also included in the Codex Calixtinus as the beginning of stage V. It was Tracy’s favorite city of all those we passed through on this journey, a truly beautiful place.

Climbing our way out of the city we entered the Zona Natural a lovely green area that covers an entire hill. At the bottom the green fades back to the browns and greens of the vineyards. We followed the vineyards and farmlands until we reached Azofra, a sleepy little town, population of about 500, with an excellent new albergue, a charming mercato owner and a lively bar.

After checking in to the municipal albergue and getting to our room, we were pleased to find that the rooms are tiny cubicles with two twin beds, no strangers sleeping with us tonight! However, the showers and bathrooms were co-ed. We had heard that some of the albergues had co-ed facilities but this was the first time we had encountered one. Tracy at first thought she had walked into the men’s room when she was in the shower and a man walked into the room. But we had learned by this point to be a little bold, so she finished her shower and went back to the tiny room.

After the laundry was hanging out to dry and we were sitting at one of the many patio tables in the courtyard, we spotted Jeffrey and Michelle hanging up their laundry and invited them to join us. Jeffrey had a bottle of wine he had picked up at the tiny grocery store in town. After we had finished it, Jeffrey mentioned that we needed more wine, so the two guys headed into town and met the charming mercato owner, Senora. While looking over the wine selection Senora mentioned that she had her own wine to sell as well. Being a supporter of locally owned businesses Alan said that he would take a bottle of the “Senora Special.” Senora took an empty wine bottle without a label, went out the back door and return moments later with a full bottle with a half-inserted cork requesting that they return the bottle when they were finished.

With more wine in hand, the two returned and we sampled the Senora Special, which was actually quite tasty. One and a half bottles later, Walter (Cork, Ireland) traveling with his sister, Alexis (a retired nurse) and brother, Scott, joined the conversation and the last half bottle was soon depleted. [Walter, a retired English teacher, had the most lyrical voice – he said that Cork, Ireland has the prettiest dialect in all of Ireland – we agree] The three of them, Alan, Jeffrey and Walter headed into town for yet more of Senora’s Special blend and quickly returning sat back down and started on the next four bottles of wine.

[It was while enjoying the 5th or 6th bottle of Senora’s Special blend that Walter told us a great story. He was on a hike with his local church up to a religious monument somewhere near his hometown of Cork, Ireland. The priest leading the pilgrimage — apparently an experienced pilgrimage leader — explained before they got started that they were to remember they were on a pilgrimage and therefore not allowed to swear or complain about the route they were taking. Telling the group, “You’re pilgrims not tourists,” and explaining that if the going got tough rather than giving up they should offer up a prayer instead. Walter explained that he spent most of the day praying aloud “Praise be to God,” as the priest had suggested. We took his advice seriously and tried to remember that we had set out to make this a religious pilgrimage, so every so often others would hear, “Praise be to God,” when the path got challenging. It’s amazing how much frustration you can express with tonal changes while uttering a single phrase!]

Meanwhile, Michelle and Tracy were making plans for dinner and told the guys we would be dining together in a little while at the restaurant just up the street from the albergue.

The three wine aficionados after emptying the last of the four bottles of Senora’s Special brew decided that it was time to eat. While at dinner a sotted Alan and Jeffrey had a fine time, Alan would exclaim loudly, “God Loves the Irish!” which would case the entire table to laugh. We’re certain God loves the Irish, but we’re not certain that everyone in the restaurant understood that coming from pilgrim from Nevada.

Thankfully the wine in Spain seems to have magical powers (sans hangover) and the lovers of Senora’s Specialty suffered no ill effects the following morning.

The lively bar seemed to be hosting a celebration. We noticed on the way back to the albergue the music and crowds of people both inside and on the patio of the bar. Most would still be there the following morning as we prepared to leave!

Sites Visited: Rock Stacks; Poyo de Roldan, the momument to Roland on the site of the epic battle where Roland slew the giant, Ferragut, and released the captive knights of Charlemagne’s army; Beehive Hut Dwelling; Poeme Camino, the interesting wall art that asks, “Pilgrim Who Calls You?”; Najera Bull Ring; Monasterio Santa Maria de la Real, with tombs dating to the 11th century; and, of course, Senora’s Mercato with the yummy house blend.

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September 7 | Day 13

Azofra to Granon

Stats | Hiked: 22.4 kilometers; Weather: light rain/misty/overcast; People Met: 3; Time on Trail: 7h/0m

Route: The day started out cool and misty and though most people had on their wet weather gear, we enjoyed the cool morning and light mist without need of jackets. We followed a nice path past the medieval marker, La Picota or Columna Justicia (Pillar of Justice), 16th century, then shortly afterwards crossed over a lovely raised canal, Canal de la Margen. This is where we saw some enterprising albergue’s camino marketing, re: flyers for private rooms and hot showers in the next village.

The next seven or so kilometers was mostly farmland with bales of hay stacked to the sky. Arriving into Ciruena we saw another pilgrim cutout sculpture and had to stop for a few photos. As we approached the new golf course, we decided to stop into the clubhouse for a quick breakfast.

After wolfing down chocolate croissant and café con leche, we headed back out into the misty morning. And, as we continued through town got a really eerie feeling about the row after row of houses and apartments that all appeared to be empty. It was like walking through a brand new ghost town. There had to be over 200 homes and none of them had a car in the driveway or a window open, but they all had landscaped yards and fences.

Leaving the creepy ghost town (which we found out later was a planned community hit hard by Spain’s economic downturn) we found the roundabout that was well way-marked and, after stopping for a couple of photos of the pilgrim sculpture, we headed out toward the vine-covered track of farmland. We were not sure what they were growing but the 14-foot tall posts and fencing were covered in vines.

We made good time through the next 6 kilometers of farmland making it to Santo Domingo de la Calzada right about lunchtime. Following the path through Santo Domingo past dozens of really pretty or quirky or cute pilgrim art pieces, we found a restaurant with indoor seating and decided to grab a bite to eat. Alan ordered us a selection of tapas and raciones and we ate our fill of the yummy offerings.

Our friends Jeffrey and Michelle were stopping here for the night, but we decided to continue on to Granon only 7.9 kilometers away as we were having a great day and feeling strong. While there were many beautiful and historic buildings in Santo Domingo, we rushed through the town to get back out on the trail as the guidebook had only one albergue listed for Granon and we didn’t wish to find a completo sign on the door when we arrived.

We did, however, take a moment to photograph Alan with the cardboard cutout of a medieval pilgrim with staff, cape and chicken in hand and to enjoy the beautiful Puente del Santo, Saint’s Bridge, on our way out of town. Date was unknown, but like a lot of medieval bridges in Europe had probably been added on to, or updated, or rebuilt over the centuries and the original date lost, but the architecture was similar to other bridges we crossed built in the 16th century.

A couple of kilometers outside of Santo Domingo de la Calzada there is a large crucifix, it’s basically in the middle of nowhere. Later reading the guidebook we found that La Cruz de los Valientes had something to do with a fight between two locals – one of Santo Domingo and the other from Granon – regarding the disputed ownership of the land. Apparently in medieval times, it was custom to submit such matters to God knowing he would protect the innocent party, so a crucifix was erected and the guy from Granon eventually won the dispute, the modern day replacement is right alongside the Camino.

We arrived in Granon a little past 3 pm, and immediately found the parish hostel of Iglesia San Juan Bautista. The way up to the reception room was through a medieval passageway that was dim and cool, the steps worn and shaped by thousands of pilgrim feet climbing them. There was a little area to remove and store your boots, but it was a tight fit with others coming and going.

When we made it to the reception area, the hospitaliero had left for lunch but another pilgrim said to just put our name in the book and find an empty mattress. So we did, left our packs in the reception area, jotted our names into the guest book and went around the corner to find a bed. However what we found in the loft of the parish albergue was a large room with what appeared to be yoga mats on the floor. The room was full of sleeping pilgrims or mattresses covered with sleeping bags and gear, one lone yoga mat was available near the door. We looked at each other and Tracy said, “Well it’s the only one in the guidebook, should we take it?” Alan suggested that she move their gear to hold the spot, but put his boots on and said to sit tight.

A short while later, he came back with a set of keys in his hand and big smile on his face and said, “Grab your gear, we’re outta here.” Explaining to Tracy as they left he had walked into town and found another albergue, but after walking inside “Hippy Haven” decided to keep looking and a few doors down found a casa rural with a private room.  Since we ended up being the only ones staying there we had full use of the house’s patio, kitchen, living area and laundry facilities – and a real shower!

[Let me just add that “real shower” means like the one you have in your house, you see most albergues and hostels need to conserve hot water for as many pilgrims as possible and some of these inexpensive accommodations can house from as few as 20 to over 400 people a night, depending on the town. When staying in an albergue, refugio or hostel you will often find a button on the wall for the shower. You don’t have the option to adjust the temperature and throughout your shower must continue to push the button to get the water back on. It’s not a bad system but after nearly two weeks of push-button showers seeing a real shower with adjustable hot and cold taps was heavenly.]

However, upon sitting on the soft, fluffy bed, Tracy burst into tears telling Alan how grateful she was not to be in the attic on a yoga mat or having to share the one and only shower/toilet of the hostel with 110 other people. (While we were there the line grew to 15 people waiting to shower.) Alan is truly the best husband, EVER!

After cleaning up and getting the laundry done, we headed out to the market for a few lunch supplies and ran into Walter (of Senora’s Special brew fame) and his sister, Alexis, and their brother Scott. Walter was explaining that they too took one look at the attic yoga mats and opted for other accommodations. However, they were at Hippy Haven and said Alan was smart to walk back out without staying. Walter said that the beds were horrible and the smell of wet pilgrims, worn boots and most likely cannabis was just too overwhelming.

After purchasing our supplies we found a restaurant/bar where we could have our now traditional, post-hike cerveza and dinner. While enjoying our beer on the patio in front of the restaurant on the street, we met Javier (Philippines/Spain) and he told us that he was born in the Philippines to Spanish parents and doing the Camino for the first time. Javier had the most charming smile and a deep laugh that seemed to be a natural state for him. We would see him over the next few days, always with a smile, except for the one morning he was brushing his teeth while stopped for a rest break. Javier left us to go inside to dinner and we were joined at our little table by Bruce and Joy (Virginia). They were calling ahead to make reservations* as the accommodations in Granon was a last straw for Joyce who was determined to have a reservation for all remaining evenings of her Camino.

[*There are many, many pilgrims that will make reservations for their accommodations, however we had decided from the beginning that a religious pilgrimage should include a smattering of faith and opted to never make a single reservation but rather take it on faith that a bed would be available. This served us well and only twice did we run into a “completo” (full) sign at our first-choice albergue, but in both instances found accommodations in the same town.]

Walter had wandered over to the table next to ours and he and Alan were caught up in conversation and while Joy made her reservations for the following evening, Bruce regaled Tracy with stories of his favorite past-time, Civil War Re-enactment. For over an hour Tracy heard amusing tales of the history of the Civil War, the importance of vintage vs. remanufactured militia vestments, apparently it is important to have the right buttons as well. He was also very proud of his son, a Virginia Tech grad and Iraq war vet. Bruce was a lot of fun and all too soon it was time for dinner.

Paying for our meal though proved to be too big of a challenge after the long day. We do not speak much Spanish and the very lovely tavern owner spoke no English. Alan had become nearly proficient in what we came to call “Camino Sign Language” but was still unable to communicate “I want to give you money” even while showing the cash to the nice lady. Javier saved the day, or night such as it was, with his fluent and flawless Spanish. Kudos Javier!

We realized while walking back to the casa rural that we should have stayed in Santo Domingo because we had pushed ourselves past the point of exhaustion on nearly every level. Barely hanging on to our shredded civility, we decided to go to bed early and get some much-needed rest. Determined that the following day, being day 14 and two weeks on the Camino, that we were more than ready to start putting some kilometers under our belt.

See a complete list of our day-to-day Camino experiences.

3 thoughts on “Getting Our Camino Legs | Days 7 to 13

    1. Thanks Jeffrey! I know it’s a long read but there are so many details that I didn’t want to forget. Unfortunately, I have ceased the cerveza training due to the weather but come summer I plan to start with a nice cold Pelican!

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