We stop for second breakfast in Najera, which is a nice old town. There are red cliffs and caves which remind me of Arizona. We pick up Steve, who separates a bit from his group to walk with us.
We walk with Steve for a while, and chat easily, it makes the km pass more quickly. Topics range from Brexit (Steve is firmly in favor) to cybersecurity (the Chinese are trying to get our data through our Pokemons go!) to wine and architecture and the Knights Templar. We pull into Azofras, where we see Maddy and Jeff getting coffee. The local albergue is highly recommended because, instead of the usual large room, they have a lot of small double-bed rooms.
We get to Azofras (“a tranquil village with a declining population of 250”) and are feeling pretty strong. We stop for patatas bravas and chicken wings. With Steve, we decide to press on to Ciruena.
Jeff, seeking to ward off the possibility that Maddy will be tempted to join us and press on, immediately takes out his book and starts arguing against it. The albergue in Azofra has only double rooms, which is quite a luxury. He exaggerates the distance, and then levels a deadly glare at Dorcinda when she questions his estimate.
Finally, he reads a description from the book that paints Ciruena as a partial ghost town with boring uninhabited suburbs, and confusing arrows that lead pilgrims to whatever business happens to be open, rather than the road out of town. “They try to cheat pilgrims!” he says, practically in hysterics. Maddy calmly agrees to stay, seeming not to care too much one way or another.
Jeff was wrong on the distance, but Steve has his own questionable interpretation of the Book of John. He thinks that each stage is supposed to represent about one hour’s travel. We look again – it’s 8km, and its at the end of the day for Brierly’s itinerary. There’s no way that’s right, we think, but we don’t bother to argue.
It’s not right. The journey is at least two hours and feels like more. The sun is pounding, and worse, we are walking nearly the entire way on hard pavement, which is very unforgiving on our already-tired feet. For once, Dorcinda has the worse of it, and I lend her my pole for support.
Ciruena is, in fact, mostly a ghost town. We pass a golf course (which offers a special pilgrim discount) that shows no sign of activity, and many, many, soulless blocky apartment buildings that are abandoned, for sale, or sparsely inhabited. There are vacant lots for sale. Eventually, we make it to the old center of town, which features old buildings that are run-down, abandoned, or for sale in approximately the same ratio as the new buildings further down the hill. The guide says the town’s population is 20, and we believe it.
At the albergue, we meet back up with Steve, after separating on the way there. They perform a switcheroo – Steve, who’d requested a room at the other place, has been directed to the albergue, while we are directed to the related Casa Victoria, where we are given a room with four beds. I speculate that they didn’t want to give four beds to a single man, and didn’t want to leave the four-bed room entirely unused. The guy from the albergue quickly ushers us into his car, our packs in the trunk, for a two-block ride to the case rural. We debate later whether this violates our pledge to walk the whole way. I decide that it doesn’t, especially since we walk back the same way about an hour later.
We are inclined to skip the communal meal, and the hospitalero, who could be played by an aged Robert De Niro in the movie, tells us that the bar sometimes has food and sometimes doesn’t have food.
We ask at the bar, and the barman gravely shakes his head, so we decide to join the communal dinner after all. We head to the albergue, where we join Steve, a German, a Dutch couple, and an old Belgian woman. Steve had talked up his German language skills, to excuse his nonexistant spanish, and gets a chance to show them off. The German barely understand what he’s saying until the Belgian woman repeats it. He shrugs and continues speaking in English. The food is, well, it’s not good. It’s spaghetti, followed by chicken. I don’t think its so bad, but Dorcinda is horrified. However, she keeps eating the spaghetti, to the point that our host offers to make more. She smiles and, with just a hint of desperation, declines his offer. We tell Steve we’re planning to go to the bar later, and he says he’ll try to join us.
At the bar, there are a lot of children and old people, but no one who seems to be young or middle aged. Where did all these children come from, I wonder. We start writing, me writing fiction and Dorcinda journaling, before Steve joins us with a smile. He talks a lot, and Dorcinda does her best to keep his attention, but it totally ruins my flow. I get the worst of both worlds, feeling like I’m being rude as I stare at my computer screen, but also failing to make any meaningful progress.
Steve asks how much writing I’ve gotten done as we say goodbye. “You were writing up a storm!” He says, impressed.
I tell him that I’ve written a little bit, not as much as I’d like, but a start.
I’ve written only about 250 words. Pathetic.