It was a long hard climb out of Najera but the country was good. It seemed like it was changing, getting dryer. Leaving behind the greenery of the last few days. the heat was building and there was a definite change in climate. I walked some way up the hill and caught up with Pascal, Bernard and Deirdre. At the top the land opened up into a grand plain. As the Sun warmed the land I almost forgot about the cold showers in the albergue the night before.
Six and a half kilometres later was the village of Azofra. I met Lorenzo again and we continued our chat on all things photographic. The Pain au Chocolat and coffee were tremendous!
The Camino was getting to me. The section in France was so different, and I had not contemplated the mental side of the walk. In France it was day after day of physical exertion. In Spain, the mental side came into play. Being fitter, the body was coping. The thoughts of the brain were more difficult to deal with. Thoughts of my life and past kept emerging. I continued to pick up stones and place the good thoughts at the top of each climb. The bad thoughts were left in the valleys. Perhaps in Santiago de Compostela the body and brain would be in harmony with the past forgotten.
Almost as soon as I was enjoying the beauty of nature around me, the Way passed by a golf club development. No doubt the golf course was nice for golfers, however surrounding it was a monstrosity of buildings and accommodation. It was clear that this was a failed development. Few of the buildings were occupied, and there was not a soul on the streets. The heat and harsh sun just made it more stark. Weeds grew between the cracks in the wide paved roads. Another example of Spain’s financial crisis that was also starting to hit much of Europe?
Ciruena was the village just past the golf development. A strangely deserted place too, it appeared that the development had robbed the old village of it’s life. I stopped at the only cafe in town. A cold beer accompanied the lunch of bread, cheese and sardines. Lorenzo arrived and we talked more on the subject of photography. We got into deeper things and discovered that we had both had bad relationships in the past. Much loss and trying to rebuild life is a difficult thing. Lorenzo’s friend, Gigi, appeared but we did not speak to him. He spent over an hour on the phone to his new girl friend in Italy.
As Lorenzo waited form Gigi to finish his call I continued on. Over the hills I passed a shepherd and his flock. I watched as his dogs strode on after him with the sheep obediently following behind their master to new grazing grounds. Six kilometres later was Santo Domingo de la Calzada. A beautiful town with a fine cathedral. It was about 4pm when I arrived and it was still hot.
As is usual in Spain at this time of the day, the locals are indoors. Some children played in the town square. Other than that it was empty. I continued along the old streets to the 11th century bridge crossing the large Oja River. To the south were enormous mountains, their summits still covered in snow even though it was mid June. The river was carrying the snow melt and it ran deep and fast.
Outside of the town I came across Emmanuel, a young Frenchman. He was asking where to buy food and I pointed him in the direction of the town. He had just come from there he informed me. He was very merry and apparently had spent the afternoon tasting French brandies with some locals. He pointed out where he was staying – on the other side of a pile of logs was a tent where he would spend the night. He wanted to continue but said he was having an early night, no doubt tired after his party. I left his exuberance behind and continued the last seven kilometres to Granon.
Granon was magical. Again quiet with the sun now setting. The land had changed so much in the last day and featured mainly wheat fields and a few trees. It was calm. I had been told about Granon and its albergue. Pilgrims slept in a dormitory in the church tower. At the Albergue San Juan Bautiste it was ‘donativo’ or donations only, and everyone was supplied with a thin mattress and slept on the floor. The building was magnificent and the welcome fantastic. I was surprised to see a box with a note offering pilgrims to put in what they wanted or to take what they needed.
In the garden everyone was relaxed after the day’s walk. We assembled later for dinner and everyone took part in preparing the evening meal. There was a large crowd of some forty pilgrims that night. Shoes were strictly left at the door, and the albergue had a very spiritual feel to it. On the extensive book shelf there was a even a hand written manuscript dating from 1617.
Suddenly there was a familiar sound for me. One of the Dutch volunteers of the albergue appeared with a set of bagpipes and played some Scottish music as he piped everyone to the tables for dinner. It was a fantastic meal with plenty of good Rioja wine. With the merriment it was not difficult for everyone to pitch in later to help with the washing up.
I remembered I had not yet obtained the important daily stamp in the Credencial. Apparently the priest had gone to Burgos for a few days, so I was directed to the bar near the albergue. There a smiling lady placed the all important daily stamp into my credencial. The locals were fascinated to learn more about the walk. I showed them some photographs on the camera and they were amazed not understanding how they were kept in the camera. Even now there are some parts of Europe where technology is not universal. The light was fading now and the swallows were circulating noisily and rapidly round the church tower. I felt an immense feeling of contentedness and peace as I turned for bed.
TIP: Take your own sleeping mat. Where mats are supplied they are usually thin and its good to have that extra layer of comfort.