Logroño to Navarette (13km)
Monday, 2 April, 2012
It was a choice of either an easy day of 13 km to Navarette or 29 km to Nájera. Now my average pace of about 4 km per hour may seem rather pedestrian to athletic types, but believe me, with boots and backpack, over undulating terrain, on mud, rocks and occasional asphalt, 4-5 km per hour is what most people achieve.
Of course there are the rather irritating exceptions, going as far and as fast as they can each day, taking no time to ‘smell the birds or hear the flowers’. To them contemplation and inner peace are for the wimps.
On the Camino, most villages and every town had hospitals, that treated the sick and the injured pilgrims. Some of the hospitals still operate, some have been converted to other functions, and many are in ruin.
After a relatively easy day of walking, I arrived in Navarette, and had no problem in finding a room. The village was not exactly crowded.
And I spent a long and laid-back afternoon in the Bar Deportivo, eating tapas, sipping on glasses of local wine, and tapping away at my notebook. I was blissfully relaxed.
The athletic jocks don’t seem to know what they are missing.
Navarrete to Nájera (16km)
Tuesday, 3 April, 2012
Normally I set my alarm for 07h00 and wake up before it rings, by 06h30 at the latest, to hit the road early. That night I decided that the alarm was no longer required, and consequently slept in and woke up at 08h50, to find rain dripping on the window sill, and little visible, apart from some cars parked in the plaza below.
And all day it rained, never heavy, but with that persistent drizzle that chills, and somehow percolates ones supposedly rain resistant clothing. I arrived in Najera feeling thoroughly miserable: cold, wet, chilled through. And to cap it all, I had some difficulty in finding a vacant room.
But with persistence and asking several people, I was eventually directed to a very comfortable room, with a very reasonable price, in a back street under the cliffs. The house was owned by two very charming men of rather obvious sexuality.
With snow flurries forecast for that day and the next ten, I had to recognise that I was poorly equipped for such conditions. So I went back into the town, and by pure luck I stumbled upon a little shop that had a waterproof jacket with a fleece lining, and at €38 seemed to me a bargain. And the old lady who sold it to me was delightful. I had fun talking to her.
Nájera To Santo Domingo De La Calzada (20km)
Wednesday, 4 April, 2012
So at 07h45 this morning, complete with my new jacket, my fleece, tracksters and hat, I emerged from the hotel, ready and prepared for whatever nature would throw at me. Despite the ominous forecast of the night before, to my surprise it was quite mild, and the fog and rain had been replaced by a beautiful spring morning. Weather forecasters can make fortune tellers and economists seem quite professional.
Within ten minutes and partly up the first hill, I was sweating and had to stop to take off my fleece. Another ten minutes and off came the jacket and the pack was noticeably heavier. Before the top of the long incline, off came tracksters, of course requiring removal and replacement of boots. Now I was comfortable, but cursing the weightier pack.
At the top of the hill, once removed from the shelter of the valley, the wind felt quite cold, and before long back on went the fleece and jacket, but my legs remained bare – it was too much hassle to fiddle with boots.
And for much of the day the dressing and undressing was repeated, depending on the state of the wind and sun. I felt like a male model at a fashion show. If I were ever to master mincing and pouting, I could have a new career as an aging clothes horse.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Beldorado (23km)
Thursday, 5 April, 2012
When walking across Spain, one thing struck me; there were enormous swathes of cultivated land, but no farmhouses to be seen, the reason being that the farmers live in the villages and commute out to their farmland. This seemed to me as an imminently preferable arrangement, in that it gives much more social opportunities for the farmers’ wives and children, and brings added life to the villages.
Until I eventually arrived in Burgos, this region gave me the impression of being rather left behind: remote, overlooked, forgotten. Yet the people were some of the most kind and friendly that I have ever come across. They reminded of Ulster country people: willing, honest, modest, with few pretensions.
Beldorado to San Juan de Ortega (26km)
Friday, 6 April, 2012
Once past Villafranca Montes de Oca, the path climbed to a plateau and for kilometre after kilometre there was nothing to be seen, except forest. It had rained heavily the night before and one had to trudge through thick clinging mud.
In the Middle Ages the area was quite remote and it had the reputation of being dangerous for pilgrims; they were preyed on by bands of thieves and robbers. The pilgrims had no resource to banks and ATMs; they carried their money on their person and were quite vulnerable, unless escorted by volunteer knights.
At one point the path passed a monument erected by the relatives of the 300 people shot by supporters of General France, soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It was a grim reminder that not so long ago, the country was very divided. Some would say that it still is.
Eventually the path descended into a valley and there I spent the night in the tiny village of San Juan de Ortega.
San Juan de Ortega to Villafría (17km)
Saturday, 7 April, 2012
When I set out next morning, the sun was shining, but soon darks clouds moved in and it turned much colder. Then the rain started and it continued to rain heavily all the remainder of the day.
On the outskirts of Atapuerca, I passed the archaological complex, where some of the oldest remains of man had been discovered, during the excavation of a railway cutting in 1976. The site contains evidence of continuous human occupation since over one million years.
After Atapuerca, the path climbed up to the Sierra and the rain turned to snow.
On the descent from the Sierra, the snow turned back to heavy rain, and it continued relentlessly. The long trudge around Burgos airport on the edge of the asphalt road was quite dispiriting, and I decided to stay at the first hotel I came across, enabling me to change into dry clothes and dry my wet gear.
Villafría to Burgos (8km)
Sunday 8 April, 2014
And finally Burgos; kilometre after kilometre of industrial area, before arriving at the well preserved heart of the old city – a jewel of parks, plazas, churches, overseen by the magnificent cathedral.
And the narrow streets, with their bars and restaurants, were filled with Easter Sunday celebrants.
Just before I left for Spain in March, I had read a book called La Sombra del Viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It was set in Barcelona and events that took place during the Spanish Civil War were central to the plot.
One of the central characters in the book went by the alias of Laín Caubert. Now I have a very good friend called Laín Burgos-Lovéce, who is from Santiago de Chile, and our friendship dates back to Caracas in the late 1970s. In all those years I have never come across another Laín, until that book. The name is apparently quite rare today.
Fast forward by a month and I was staying in Burgos. I had just checked into a small hotel and when I left the hotel to explore the surroundings, I noted the street names, in case I got lost. The street that I was staying on was called Calle de Laín Calvo. In Spanish ‘calvo‘ means bald, and that would certainly be an accurate description of my friend Laín today.
So were Laín + Burgos + Camino de Santiago just a coincidence?
Perhaps it was a very positive sign that I was on the right path. I have no idea of where the path might lead, but I suspect that if I keep my mind open, I will come across more signs.