Part 7: El Camino de Santiago
Filed Under: Lifestyle | Posted: 01/29/2008 at 7:57AM
Comments | Region: United States
Parades and the chicken church
Camino â€“ Day 8
Buenos Dias Los Amigos,
Well, as you can probably imagine, when the first rays of light found the dormitory at Najera they did not find a religiously inspired, fat disciple waiting with eagerness for the walk to begin. I realised from the moment I opened my eyes that this day was going to be a defining test of my Camino, possibly even my life. Every bone in my body screamed at me to just forget this ridiculous quest in favour of a nice first class rail ticket to Madrid and a comfortable business class flight to London.
The bunks in the dormitory had been pushed together to maximise efficiency and I found myself contemplating my situation whilst fending off a 14 year old Spanish youth who was determined to share bodily warmth. As Father Tony, a Catholic priest walking with us later pointed out, if he repeated the same story he would be carted off in chains!
Under normal circumstances, I would not have even considered walking to the fridge to find breakfast, let alone walking 22 kms in the blazing heat, and yet here I was, alone in Najera, contemplating just that. The problem with being a pilgrim is that the other people around you are just so inspiring that at times you have very little choice but to just get on with it. Hector, a young Spanish student who I’d barely exchanged two words with before the previous evening, had spent the entire night fetching and carrying food, drinks and medical supplies to my bedside. Dane, an American actress, had carried my bag from the hospital to the refugio despite suffering the same symptoms as myself, plus the added discomfort of grotesque blisters!
As they both stood at the end of my bed, demanding that I walk with them to Santo Domingo, I felt the least I could do was give it a try. I think if I could have shot them both I would have, but this was not really a viable option in the crowded refugio, so prepare I did! Putting my boots on was a combination of genuine agony and truly Shakespearian acting, largely to make sure that everyone around me remained convinced of the fact that I was a pilgrim in need. Finally, as I hobbled out into the dawn, I looked about as convincing as Biggles on a diet and as happy as my father hearing I will be coming for Sunday lunch!
I think the best way to describe the physical side of the Camino is to put yourself in the shoes of a Formula 1 racing boss. Race after race his young charges take beautiful cars out on the circuit before trashing them and limping them back to the pits where the mechanics work all night to fix them. How frustrating must that be for the poor guy and sometimes he must just feel like saying "take some bloody care this time will you!" Thus it is with me on the Camino! Day after day I take my body out on the road, find some new way to smash it up, only to hand it over to my night time mechanics who do the best to fix it. The only problem right now is that I am starting to run out of spare parts and there is nobody else to blame but myself!
I met up with Alain and the others 8 kms outside of Najera. By the time I came up to them I, had managed to perfect a limp to such an extent that I could hardly move forwards. Having abandoned me the night before, I was going to milk this for all it was worth! We walked on in silence for about 10 minutes, before my desire to tell my stories of gloom and courage outweighed my desire to be a prima donna – after that, all was well with the world and the team marched and, in my case, hobbled on.
The landscape of the Camino has really changed now and to be honest it is quite depressing. Endless gravel roads pass through brown fields which seemingly have not grown anything since the barbarian hordes conquered Europe. This is occasionally interrupted by small villages where the Spanish send all their old people to sit by the roadside and look pitiful before, no doubt, shuffling off to die, making way for the next bus load from Madrid and Barcelona. In all my life I have never seen a woman look as old and wrinkled as one lady I saw just outside Santo Domingo this afternoon!
We arrived in Santo Domingo at about 4:00 clock to be told that the refugio was full. This was about as good as it could get, as it gave me full remit to stay in, you guessed it, a HOTEL! My feet were like a badly organised orchestra of pain! Every few seconds some new player would come barging in with a sharp jab, dull throb or excruciating jolt to remind me that I was a prat for even walking to the front door this morning!
The El Carango hotel is a bustling, wonderful, palatial paradise of a 2 star hotel, slap bang in the middle of town! I have fallen a long way people, a long way. When you get excited about the fact that the room has its own window, the bath has only five day old mold growing in it and there is carpet involved, you know that standards have slipped. I didn’t care, I simply didn’t care. This was bliss on a scale I could not have imagined possible and I relished every last minute of it! I hung my crucified disasters off the end of the bed and fell asleep without a second thought!
I have just returned from Dane’s birthday dinner – I treated her and the others to a paella dinner, away from the usual pilgrim 8 euro meal. Corporate London has to have its perks somewhere along the Camino’s limb-strewn battlefields! We feasted like kings tonight and life was good. My feet are an indescribable mess, my body hurts and so does my mind at the thought that Alain and Dominique will be leaving the day after next. For now though, I made it to Santo Domingo and, as I suspected, I feel about as pilgrim as you can get!
Adios los Amigos and Buen Camino!
16K, for three of us, and a few small hills later, we were in Santo Domingo. At that point we had some choices. Another 6K and we would be in Granon, 8K past there and we’d be in Redecilla, 3K farther was Viloria de Rioja and another 4K beyond that was was Villamayor del Rio. If we continued on to Villamayor del Rio, which we didn’t, we would be 59K from Burgos. Burgos was to be a major transition point with Alain leaving to go back to South Africa and Dominique getting on the train to return to Paris. I’d been walking with Dominique most of the time except when I found her pace too slow. Her pace had been faster than Alain and James, but not as fast as mine overall.
At Santo Domingo, James was feeling the effects of a long day, 22K for him, the drag on his system from the insect bites he got in Estella and his confrontation with Cleuso at Najera. He felt bad when he found out Cleuso had quit the Camino. I think it was a good thing, not that we’d ever see him again because of the differences in our walking speed. But, I felt Cleuso, like many who were walking the Camino, needed to address the core issue of overall health before undertaking a challenge like the Camino.
James and I had a long talk. He felt I was taking off and leaving him. I’d promised to do the Camino with him, and he was right. I’d planned to walk with him when Alain left, but hadn’t communicated that to him. Walking slower than one’s normal pace is as hard on the fast walker as walking faster than what’s comfortable for a slower walker. There was also another problem that I didn’t bring up at the time, and probably should have.
I understood that James was involved with his business, as I’d been there, done that. But walking with someone who had a phone stuck in their ear wasn’t really the way I wanted to spend my days. Others had asked me if James was always on the cell phone. I’d been asked that question from the first day and my answer had always been, “That’s James.” But, going on a holiday with someone who spent most of the day, and into the evening, on the phone wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
We worked it out and I told him I would like to walk the last day to Burgos with Dominique and then back to where we would stay the night, just to see if it would be possible. James said he’d make arrangements to walk with others.
James’s feet and legs were looking better than they had before his stop to see a doctor and a pharmacist. At Santo Domingo de la Calzada we checked into a hotel for a long soak in a tub. I was having a hard time with the food and lack of sleep, and a hot tub of water proved good for me too. We found a place to eat, and things were somewhat better the next day when we left for wherever we felt comfortable with, as far as distance was concerned.
Somewhere in this timeframe we were caught in the midst of a celebration, one that celebrated “accion de gracias’” (being thankful), the harvest and some chickens that came back to life. I think it was Santo Domingo de la Calzada but my notes aren’t clear on the subject, total recall is escaping me and the story is too good to pass up,
JUST IN TIME FOR A PARADE
When we’d arrived in town we were trapped in a doorway by a parade which plugged the streets. Between surges of the parade, we were able to get to the alberque where a woman explained in Spanish, what was going on.
After the parade passed we waited in the plaza across from the alberque for James and Alain. By the time they arrived, the alberque was full and James wanted to get comfortable without the possibility of Cleuso showing up. At that time we didn’t know Cleuso had quit the Camino.
Dominique was caught up in the chickens that came back to life story and wanted to go to the church where some chickens were kept. My interest level was quite a ways below hers, but I went to look at the church and to see if there might be something I could learn. So, after dinner we went to the church that figured into the chicken story.
It was an impressive place and the architecture was amazing, with vaulted ceilings that had lasted through centuries, held in place by master craftsmanship in stone. Some truly incredible stone masonry work exists in Spain, masterworks that escape the storyteller or sketch artist’s ability to do them justice.
THE CHICKEN CHURCH
The story follows, as related to me in broken English/Spanish. A young boy was working at a church as was a young girl who had desires for him. She approached him with a proposition. When he turned her down she told the bishop, or whoever was in charge of the church, that the boy had defiled her. The boy was taken before a court and found guilty, even though he said he was innocent, and the boy was taken out and hanged. When the parents for their last look at their son, they were convinced he was still alive. They went to see the bishop and told him if the boy was still alive it proved he was innocent, and that he should be taken down and freed. The bishop had just killed a couple of chickens for dinner and said to the parents, “That boy is as dead as these chickens! And, is as likely to come back to life as they are.” At that point the chickens got up and ran off, and the boy was freed. No one seems to know what happened to the girl. Chickens are now kept in a pen that’s in one wall of the church, behind bars, where people come to point and stare at them.
I would be really impressed if the chickens, which are alive and walking around, were the same ones as in the story, but doubt that’s true since it‘s been some hundreds of years.
When we left the church, on the day we arrived in Santo Domingo, I saw the cyclists who I’d encountered on the road to Najera. I told them I’d done a lot of cycling, touring and racing, and it was always the overtaking person’s responsibility to be sure they didn’t cause problems, and it was the same on the Camino. It wasn’t the walker’s responsibility to continually turn around and see if someone was about to run them down. At first, they were defensive but after a little while they said they agreed. They were from England, so it wasn’t necessary to try to get the message across in a foreign language, thank goodness.
The next morning while waiting for the others, I was standing in the plaza outside the chicken church when the cyclists, who I’d talked to the evening before, rode up. They showed me the bells they’d bought and the battery operated electronic device that one of them had that sounded like Avon calling. I was glad that they hadn’t taken offense, because we’d had a nice talk the evening before, after the first minute or two.
From Santo Domingo, we continued the slow climb and eventual descent that would take us to Burgos. From Santo Domingo to Burgos it was 72K, which was way outside the comfort zone for any of us. We had options and needed them in order to get to Burgos without too much discomfort.
We all were having some form of problem: James with his insect bites, me with the food, Alain with a sore Achilles tendon and Dominique with anxiety about returning home when she would rather do the rest of the Camino.