Camino Day 13 – Burgos

We have the whole day to spend in Burgos, the first day without serious walking since we began.  We start with a visit to the Cathedral, and end up spending three hours there. It’s beautiful, it’s overwhelming, we are sedated by our audioguides. We see Brian and Mary the old Canadians and they are rushing through.  We see an organist enter one of the side organs and listen for a while after he begins playing. I take photos of weird monsters and bizarre grotesqueries, like the painting of a devil cutting off a martyr’s boob, and a carving of a devil-man with a tail and a face in his torso in a scene dedicated to Santa Casilda. The doll above the clock, whose bizarre openmouthed grin has earned him the nickname of the flycatcher, Papamoscas.

The Cathedral is so stuffed with art that it’s difficult to take it all in. We learn a bit about the saints, many of whom have pilgrimage connections, as we do. We stop by a gruesome oil painting of a woman getting her breast lopped off by a devil, and learn that Saint Agatha was tortured and killed by a heathen Roman ruler who initially wanted to marry her. She had dedicated her virginity to god, and refused his advances, and the ruler turned his attention to vengeance and torture. Perversely, Catholics revere her as the patron of breast cancer patients. It’s a pattern among the saints, whose guidance is sought on matters more closely related to their gruesome deaths than the lives they led. Saint Batholomew, who was flayed alive, was worshipped as the patron saint of tanners, for example. And what does Bartholomew know about tanning?  His experience with flaying was probably not conducive to careful learning the craft. During his exposure to the technique, the poor saint was probably not paying close attention, distracted by incredible pain and likely making an effort to think about literally anything else other than the specific techniques used by his torturers and murderers.  The story was similar with Saint Lorenzo, baked alive, and forced to hear the prayers of cooks wondering whether the roast was properly done.  The list goes on and on. Forcing the saints, in their immortality, to constantly be reminded of their deaths and martyrdom, the worst moments of their short brutal lives, seems pretty callous to me.

We see a lot of images of San Roque and his dog, with what seems to be a frisbee in his mouth. Finally, I think. A light-hearted saint who just wants to play outside with his loving pooch.  It turns out that the disc in the dog’s mouth is not the world’s first frisbee, but bread that he carried to the saint when he was starving in the wilderness.

The art raises a lot of less-immediately-answerable questions as well. Why does Santa Catalina stand on a man’s head?  What’s with the weird devil who has a face in the torso, near the chapel of Santa Casilda? Who thought it was a good idea to paint over some, but not all of the sculptural adornments, making some of the statuary look cheap and two-dimensional? Who are those weird warrior men whose bodies are covered in hair?

We admire many other pieces that we barely have time to wonder about. The wooden carved door showing sinners in the mouth of a dragon. El Cid’s resting place, under a grand dome. A lonely cherub, cradling a skull. Griffin heraldry, in statues and wooden carvings. A pilgrim version of Saint James kneeling dramatically, hand over heart. A pilgrim version of Mary, with the shell on her crown, and the dagger/cross of saint james on her dress. Magnificent gilded altars with backdrops that stretch to the high ceilings. The lid of a bishop’s stone coffin, carved with a likeness of the deceased that was so vivid that the sculptors painstakingly carved elbaorate floral patterns into his robs and the pillow where he’d rested his head. A statute of a beheaded saint, labeled S. Victores, holding his own head in his hands like you see sometimes in Halloween costumes. I note another “cannibal Mary” for my collection – I’m always amused to see statues of the Mother and Child where the child’s head is incongruously missing. There’s a guilt-ridden example in NYC’s Cloisters museum, which sparked my theory that the mother is eating the baby like an oversized chocolate bunny or something.

We buy harmonicas but we are shocked by the prices. I end up spending 46 euro and Dorcinda spends 39. Both are Suzukis, and hers is heavy where mine is light and bright-toned. The woman at the shop, once she got rid of a customer with an obscenely crying baby, laid out a large selection of German and Japanese harmonicas for us. It was either pay up, or get a Chinese-made harmonica for 12 euro and the shopkeeper’s eternal disdain.

She was patient with our questions in halting Spanish, and she beamed when we told her we were on pilgrimage. She’d done it years ago with her kids when they were aged 7 and 8, and it was a highlight of her life. People are more human on the Camino, she told us, and I agreed. She told us she sells a lot of harmonicas and ukuleles to pilgrims these days.

We took a tourist train for 4.60 apiece. It’s a huge mistake – we’d forgotten how many of the streets were cobblestone. It’s a spinal stress fracture or broken tailbone waiting to happen. Also, the information comes in spanish, then french, then English, so by the time it gets around to saying “on your right, you’ll see…” the landmark its discussing has long since passed us by. I start giving Dorcinda a heads up from the Spanish so she doesn’t miss everything.

After the tour, we go up into a museum in an arched gate in the town walls. There’s a room dedicated to El Cid, which claims to hold his left radius arm bone.

The day has passed us pretty quickly, so we decide we don’t have time for the Evolution museum, or the monastery of huelgas. I go for the book museum which is close, cheap, and doesn’t seem like it will take too long.

While Dorcinda was visiting yet another church in Burgos, I stopped to check out a book museum. I saw that they had a reduced price for desempleados, and explained that I was unemployed in the US, if that counted. The woman selling tickets said, in English, and with a bit too much conviction for my liking, “I believe you.” A little embarrassed by her certainty, I explained that I was unemployed because I was on pilgrimage, and was pleased to learn that pilgrims got in for free. I learned a bit about the process of making vellum from sheepskin, the competition among monks for scribe work (which exempted them from manual labor) and early printing processes. They had a few originals on loan and a lot of replicas of famous old books, including a Guttenberg bible, early Encyclopedias, and those funny maps where people drew Europe in the former of a reclining woman or Asia in the former of a horse. Relevant to this trip, they had a replica of the Codex Calixtinus, the first pilgrim travelogue and a collection of official prayers and stories relevant to St. James, and a book on the Order of St James, which was devoted to defending the pilgrimage route. There were some great illuminated manuscripts and odd bestiaries as well.

We met Steve for dinner at Morito, and enjoyed some great tapas. We’re joined by Zoltan, who doesn’t eat much since he was sick earlier that day. The barmaid yells out my name with each plate that’s ready. And she yells with gusto back to the kitchen when a new order comes in. When we leave, she yells out a goodbye. It’s pretty great.

Day 12 – San Juan to Burgos

Everyone gets up far too early. It’s barely past 5 when the rustling starts. We are unable to sleep, and have actually gotten a fair amount of rest since lights were turned off so early the night before. We decide to head out, but its pitch black. Dorcinda finds her headlamp, but I must’ve forgotten to pack mine, so I rely on her light as she walks ahead. (Later, I would find that I had packed not one, but two headlamps, but they were tucked away in a hidden pocket of my pack.)

I’m a little nervous walking in the dark, and can hear ominous rustling off in the woods to my right. I’m worried about sprained ankles and animals. This is a purely modern phenomenon, I think – no medieval pilgrim would try to get such a predawn start with wolves or highwaymen on the roads, without the light of the sun to guide him.

We hear rustling very close to the road and stop short. Dorcinda’s light illuminates the rear half of an animal, a white rump and leg. She pans slowly to the left and I hold my breath in anticipation. It’s a cow. Placidly standing just off the road in the woods. A little later, I’m startled by the sight of a cow even closer, just a few feet away from me, with horns and everything. I’m legitimately afraid for a second. This thing could totally kill me in the dark, as revenge for all the burgers I’ve ever eaten. Stealth cows. Ninja cows.

We stop for breakfast and coffee at a charming little place called El Alquimista in Ages. Everything is lovingly organized, shelves neatly stocked with food and drink, with dark wood floors and ceilings, and vines tangling in the ceiling above the entryway. The pride of place, however, goes to a wooden fertility statue, between the bar and the bakery counter. It’s massive erection reaches to its nostrils. We snap a photo and send email it to Mom while we’ve still got wifi access. We’re joined by Brenda and Steve for breakfast.

Close to Burgos, we encounter a Canadian from Nova Scotia with one of those names that works either as a first or last name. I thought Dorcinda was racing ahead to talk to the guy, but she says he stopped her to say hi as she was passing him. Kirby was a cornball, cheesy as hell, sounded like a school teacher.

You have a wonderful singing voice, I’m very much enjoying it, he told her. Thanks, she said, and intended to keep walking. But he kept engaging. His parents, who hated nicknames, gave him a name that would be unusual and hard to nickname, so they searched up and down the coastline to make sure that no one else had named their kid Kirby before the name.

We take the “scenic” way in to Burgos. We’re not sure where, exactly the path diverges, and as we stop to discuss, a security guard standing outside a factory sees us and points us to the river route.

What a guy, we think! A manifestation of Santiago himself! Jesus, not the devil, at the crossroads. As we hesitate, two young men from Montreal approach and start talking to Kirby, after noticing the Canadian flag on his pack, and we take the opportunity to ditch them.

Half an hour later, we are walking around the Burgos airport. The first sign of civilization after that is a scrap yard. Where’s the goddamn river? Where’s the scenic route? That was no manifestation of St James, it was the Devil himself, leading us astray! We stop for lunch, and at the bar, older Australians ask me to translate their questions about the bus. One of their group is ill, and they’re taking a bus ahead to keep their schedule.

We continue on, and eventually, reach the river and a park that extends all the way to Burgos. Okay, we think, maybe that guy was not the devil. Maybe he was just a helpful security guard who was pointing us to a route that was poorly named. The park seems endless, though, and our pace flags dramatically as we trudge through it.

We skip a goodbye lunch with Jeff and Maddy (Dorcinda doesn’t even tell me about it!), who are bussing from here to Leon, and make for our hotel. We reserved a duplex, but for some reason, it didn’t quite register that that meant more stairs. Oh joy.

The showers are good though and we steal soap and shampoo. I had bought soap in Pamplona but lost it almost immediately. We meet Steve and Brenda for dinner and Brenda tells about her choice between a laid back job near Valencia and a higher-paying but more stressful position back in the Netherlands. She says the Camino is helping her think about it, but it seems like her mind is already made up to stay in Spain. We get one more drink after Steve and Brenda leave, then crash, with the luxury of not setting our alarms for the next morning.

Day 11 – Belorado to San Juan de Ortega


We get up pretty early at Belorado (I’m out of bed and brushing my teeth at 6:10). The hostel was closed for breakfast so we walked into Belorado and had coffee with a bunch of Guardia Civil. I was limping almost from the get go, never having quite recovered from my misstep on the mountain a week ago, and Dorcinda suggests taking a bus to Burgos, as Maddy and Jeff had planned. I am loathe to give up on the day and the integrity of the walking tour so early in the morning. We press on.

We try to get coffee in the next town and nothing is open. A pack of peckish pilgrims, unfamiliar to us, British and younger, mostly, follow us in our fruitless search. We press on, and meet Maddy and Jeff, who have changed their plans to take the bus from Ages, saving only a day, because they heard that San Juan de Ortega’s albergue, in an old monastery, is very nice. They walk with Dorcinda a while, after she fell behind due to a bathroom break in the bushes. She actually fell into a puddle and has changed her shoes

When they catch up to me, Jeff and Maddy pause to adjust packs or something and we split up. On a hilly stretch, a car drives slowly in the opposite direction of pilgrims, telling them, in English and Spanish, about a new hotel and restaurant in the town up ahead. He worked in Kenucky, near the Tennessee border, and his English is pretty good.

We stop just below the hill that leads up to San Juan de Ortega, where the driver recommended. We get coffee (our second) and sandwiches, which are much larger than we’re used to, so we save half for later.

Today, I’ve seen a few pilgrims with pilfered sunflowers on their packs. The pilgrim tax, just like the grapes we snatched in Rioja. There are a lot of unfamiliar pilgrims on the road, and they seem jockier, younger, less friendly, with fewer “hola”s and “buen camino”s than we’re used to. One guy with a short dark beard and sunglasses walks in the opposite direction, and we smile and say hi, like normal. He doesn’t acknowledge us, doesn’t change his frowning expression, and barely even moves to get out of our way (both of us are walking towards the center of the road). We laugh as soon as he passes, probably before he’s out of earshot.

He puts the grim in pilgrim, I say. He puts the douche in pilgrimdouche, Dorcinda says.

Later, we hear stories about the same man from Steve and Brenda, and from Jeff and Maddy. When he passed Maddy and Jeff he refused to acknowledge their greetings, and after passing them, shouts “Joyeux Noel!” – Merry Christmas, in French. When he encountered Brenda and Steve, he also ignores them, and shouts some gibberish after passing. He’s devolving, the Madman from the Meseta.  (Later we hear that Alice and her mom ran across the same man, at an earlier, more civilized stage. He told them “a true pilgrim walks home” when they commented on his direction).

We pass the Romanian from the day before, in Santo Domingo de Calzada, but he’s pressing ahead and doesn’t seem interested in talking. He’s on a 33km day.

There’s a monument to 300 people executed here, I think for supporting the old democracy against the facsist rebellion that ultimately won the civil war.

We stop at an “Oasis” of the Camino, with hammocks, donativo refreshments, and music – Elvis, when we arrive. Aint Nothing but a Hound Dog. Return to Sender. A hippyish woman doles out refreshments (we get a cup of lemonade and a slice of watermelon) from her van (Also the source of the music) and has her young daughter hand out stamps to the pilgrims. There’s a pole with signs and distances – 5000 km to USA, New Hampshire, which I think is bogus, but actually turns out to be pretty close. Its a nice break in a long 12km stretch that’s almost all uphill between the last town and out destination.

At San Juan, there’s just one bar. There are a lot of people we recognize – Steve, Jeff, Maddy, Brenda, Alice & her mom, the Romanian (whose name is Christian). We get the last two lower bunks, and Dorcinda talks for a moment to an old couple from Colorado.

The guy seems like a blowhard so I avoid joining the conversation, but hear Dorcinda explaining what nettles are – Ortega means nettles, so the town is St John of the Nettles. Jeff and Maddy show us some stretches or leg elevation exercises, and Jeff grabs his buttocks  while propping his legs up on the bunk above. He tells me not to be shocked, and I say hey, you do you, walk your own camino.

At dinner, we sit with Steve and Brenda and Maddy and Jeff, and notice Alice, alone in a sea of older folks hand picked by her mother to pack the table before Alice arrived. Dinner is horrible, among the worst we’ve had, with ketchcup rice, gross garlic soup, and chicken?

Everyone is pooped so we go to sleep early.

Camino Day 10 – Ciruena to Belorado


We leave Ciruena early, and pass Jeff and Maddie on the road. We meet them again in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, which has one of the silliest pilgrim legends that we’ve ever heard.

The story goes that a local woman fell in love with a passing pilgrim boy, and when he refused her advances, framed him for theft by slipping some stolen silver in his bag. He’s hanged, and his parents come to fetch his body. When they do, they find him, still alive, at the end of the hangman’s rope. They appeal to the mayor to cut him down (which is dumb, just cut him down your damn selves!), and the mayor refuses to believe it. He’s just sitting down for dinner, and tells them, that boy is no more alive than these chickens, plucked and roasted. At that, the chickens, roasted and all, get up and start dancing on the table. The boy is cut down and lives happily ever after. It’s a petty sort of miracle, focusing more on a “screw you!” moment for the mayor, who is not the story’s villain, than that ACTUAL miracle of a hanged boy coming back to life, after a period long enough for his parents to get word back in Germany and make the long-ass trip to Spain to retrieve him.

The upshot is that the cathedral now houses live chickens, and has for centuries, which is a pretty cool way to stand out.

We enter the Cathedral with Jeff and Maddie, who decide not to pay the 3 euro entry fee. We wander around for quite a while, long enough for rain to come and go outside. I’m looking for relics and chickens in the architecture at first, but my attention is soon drawn to a very random selection of displays of miniatures. They have castles with Warhammer and Lord of the Rings miniatiures, including a recreation of the battle for helms deep! There are also superhero displays and lego versions of cities along the camino.

We get a pizza for lunch in Granon, and move on. In Redecilla del Camino, we see a sign offering massages for pilgrims, and knock on the door. It’s closed until 4pm, but the woman, a volunteer, offers to take a look if we need medical attention. Inside, she takes one look at my swollen ankle and pronounces, tendinitis. She is less sure about Dorcinda’s mysterious foot pain, but gives us both the same treatment, a partial shave and a blue stripe of medical tape from the trouble spot up the leg. She tells us what we should have already known – rest, ice, compression elevation. She says, if you can’t rest completely, try to take it easy – instead of 20k days, do 10, 15. We maintain poker faces and nod gravely – we’ve been doing more like 25 – 30, and today ends up being another long one.

We consider stopping at both Viloria de Rioja and Villamayor de Rio, but both are pretty much ghost towns by the time we talk through them. We press on to Belorado, catching up with the Brierly itinerary despite our very slow first day.

At Belorado, we stop at the first hostel we see, just before the town proper. It’s late, and we ask for a private room which isn’t available. What they DO have, however, is a 20 bed room, which we have all to ourselves, for the meager price of 5 euro each.

We are spent, so we try to wash our laundry in the machine, but there’s no soap anywhere so we wash it by hand as usual. We take advantage of the luxury of a dryer, since we got in late, but it is not efficient at all, and ends up costing about 3 euro (more than the 2 advertised) before everything is dry.

Camino de Santiago Day 9 – Navarrete to Ciruena


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.

Camino de Santiago Day 8 – Viana to Navarrete


We get an early start, and after 9.4 km, we stop for second breakfast in Logrono, capital of la Rioja. Everyone there seems pretty interested in helping us find the path, and we get unsolicited directions and “Buen Camino!”s from old men with canes and city workers in bright vests who are hosing down the streets.

In Logrono, in the plaza with the Cathedral, a homeless-looking guy approaches us and asks us something I can’t understand. I think I hear Andalusia in there somewhere, but I don’t want to engage him or ask for clarification. I point vaguely in the direction of the Camino and say “No. Somos peregrinos. Andamos.”

No. We are pilgrims. We walk.

He nods vaguely, in mutual misunderstanding, and wanders off. Later we’re struck by the ridiculousness of my response and try to imagine what he could have asked us.

We’re impressed by the bird’s nest on top of the Logrono cathedral, and point it out to Brian and Mary over breakfast. We have been seeing a lot of large birds’ nests on old buildings, and have wondered what they were. Brian seems uninterested. It’s just storks, he says.

There’s a really nice park on the way out of Logrono. Parque de la grajera. Dorcinda takes photos of swans, ducks and fish fighting for bread crumbs thrown by a small child on a bridge over the pond.

To pass the time, I start telling dumb city-name riddles.

“What city is when a major Harry Potter character is asked to name his favorite singer named Joan?” Ron says Baez = Roncesvalles.

“What city holds the key to understanding Bishop’s One Art (the poem I’ve been memorizing for a few days)?” Toulouse.

“What city is when a guy organizes a fancy birthday party for himself, with parades and costumes and everything, but forgets to invite the guests?” Pomp Alone-a.

“What city is the number of keys needed to open an unlocked door?” Ciro-qui.

“What city is where a lion, a tiger, an elephant, and an antelope can get together for a few drinks before heading home?” Zubiri.

There’s a stretch of road outside Logrono where a chain link fence separates our earthen path from the road below. Abandoned buildings are scattered, occasionally, on our right. Pilgrims have put twigs in the form of crosses through the wires, but I find the scene to be depressing. It looks shitty, like the debris it came from, basically horizontal litter. I see the worst clamshell interpretation ever – it’s a black plastic garbage bag, in strips, woven into the fence. (Later, there’s another in the road made of bathroom tile, and it looks more like a skeleton hand than the rays of light or the lines of the shell).

There are several Camino legends on this stretch of road. Roland versus the Giant. The Battle of Clavijo, which ended the tribute of 100 maidens to the moors.

On the way to Navarrete, we eat grapes from the vineyards lining the road, tempranillo grapes from the Rioja wine-growing region. We decide that it’s probably fine, since the farmers here are probably used to losing a few grapes a day to hungry pilgrims, the same way that other farmers expect to lose some crops to other sorts of pests. The pilgrim tax, I call it.

In Navarette, we decide to stay at Hostal El Cantaro, which we’ve been seeing signs for along the path. When we get to town, we pass several hostels without seeing it, so we ask an old spanish lady for directions. Right after we do, we pass yet another hostel, and a British man, smiling a smug salesman’s smile, asks us if he can help us as we pass his table. No, we’re fine, we say. “Oh, think you can find El Cantaro on your own, eh?” Yes, we said, the lady just told us. He tells us, as we already know, that its basically straight ahead and to the right. A little further, there’s a very clear sign for El Cantaro. I speculate that he owned the hostel we just passed and was hoping to convince us to stay there by drawing us into conversation and seeming helpful. I am annoyed by him, although I know Pious John would want me to be more receptive to unasked for help.

At El Cantaro, we ask for the best place to eat and are directed to a sports bar, I think. Its just called Bar Deportivo, and its just below the cathedral.  We stop into the church for a few minutes, and I spy a map where pilgrims can pin their home towns. There’s one map for Europe and one for the whole rest of the world. I look at New York and find that another woman from Kingston has recently made her Camino and stopped at this very spot! At Bar Deportivo, The food is delicious, and we’re joined by Brian and Mary, who again arrive a few minutes later.  We find out that Brian is lagging behind a bit and Mary pushes him forward. They are both retired environmental scientists or something and met through work. I think they live near Michigan, north of the lake.

Camino Day 7 – Monjardin to Viana


At breakfast, the salt-n-pepper haired German, who’s walking backwards on the Camino, says that Steve, the loudest complainer about the Italian’s snoring, was himself quite a dramatic snorer. The German was further enraged by that group’s rustling around in the morning before their early start, and says he sat up in bed to glare silently at them. One of them looked back, shining their headlamp straight into his face. He’s pissed, and not just in a normal “isn’t that annoying” kind of way. There’s murder in his eyes.

Dorcinda tells the story of her argument with Masha, and the German man, suddenly pious again – transformed, I’d say, but the Holy Spirit –  says that Dorcinda should have told her to keep on walking the Camino until her attitude changes. Dorcinda asks the German if that’s what he told the British guy, and he admits that he said no such thing, and just seethed in silence. (Steve later disputes this, blaming Jeff for looking at the guy with his headlamp on and a sinus problem for the alleged snores).

We pass a woman on the side of the road with a stand selling soda and knickknacks. I get a stamp and Doricnda thinks about buying a notebook, annoying the woman by taking the book out of the plastic cover to see if it is lined or not. The woman asks what she’s doing, and I tell her she’s checking for lines. There are no lines, she said, annoyed. Later we see a reference to a similar woman in the Brierly book and I wonder if its the same one. Brierly loved her.

We pass Los Arcos, and get a photo at an ancient Moorish fountain with two arches.

The day takes us through Torres del Rio, where we stop for smoothies. This is the town where the legendary El Ramon, from the Hitt book and the lame movie, supposedly lives. We read on camino forums that someone stayed at his house as recently as 2013, but rumors from 2014 and 2016 say he’s died or ceased to run a casa rural. We hear that Steve, Brenda, Maddy and Jeff are staying at an albergue with a pool, and that sure sounds nice in this heat.

This heat does odd things for your sense of spirituality. On the bleakest stretch of road, the sudden arrival of a small gust of wind or a few trees to offer momentary shade can seem like a gift from the universe. On the other hand, our patience for signs from fellow pilgrims grows very short. We pass each other with mere grunts or sullen stares instead off the cheerful “Buen Camino” and occasional conversation we find on better days. Yesterday we passed an area where prior pilgrims had placed papers with prayers, well wishes, and other messages under small piles of rocks. “What’s this?” I asked Dorcinda, who was walking ahead. “Probably some prayer shit,” she answered. A few paces later, I confirmed, “Yeah, some prayer shit. Let’s keep moving.”

In Viana, we’re beat, so we stop at the first hostel we see. It’s been a 19-mile day, our longest so far. Brian and Mary, an elderly Canadian couple that we met earlier on the road, are there as well, arriving just after us. After getting situated, we go into town to find a bar and write. I sit at a bar, and Dorcinda decides instead to check out an ecumenical tea house for pilgrims. I make good progress, she gets recommendations on a few places to stay on the road ahead and learns of the Friday night pincho notes at bars around town. Basically its a drink and a tapa, for cheap, 1.5 to 2 euro.

We try pincho potes for a while, but are too hungry to make that work without getting extravagantly drunk. After two drinks, one at the hotel, and one at the restaurant recommended to us, we return to the hotel for the pilgrim’s dinner, which is the only real food option this early (it starts at 8). At the hotel, we see Brian and Mary at another table, and settle in. There’s a lonely looking old man who smiles at us as we enter, and Dorcinda, sensing that he wants companionship, invites him to join us. He gratefully accepts.

His name is Terry, and he’s a bit of an eccentric, a retired museum curator with a literary bent, on Camino alone. His wife is at home, decorating, after walking with him for a week. We talk about poetry, and I recite Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art. He tells us about a rap version of Canterbury Tales, and we talk about Hamilton, which we failed to get tickets for, so popular that nobody can see it (like that Yogi Berra joke, no one goes there any more, its too crowded). He has books on tablet, including Roland. He talks about lies he’s told, and a riddle about walking to St. Ives? Dorcinda actually did that walk, from Penzance to St. Ives.  I can’t think of any lies I want to confess, so instead I tell the worst thing I’ve ever done – throwing Pattie across the room on a dare, when drunk. I could’ve hurt her seriously, and for what?

Terry also talks about how his fat brother has motivated him to stay in shape, though he’d never say it to his brother and he’s somewhat ashamed to admit it to us. He speaks with sympathy, rather than judgment, about his brother’s health problems and mobility, saying “my baby brother” can’t even walk up the stairs. He himself planned to only walk 5km the next day, to Logrono. I think he’s the slowest pilgrim we’ve met, Dorcinda says.

The food is extravagant, compared to what we’re used to. We get melon con jamon as an appetizer, and it is massive. Dorcinda can’t finish hers, so I swipe a roll, a few pieces of jamon, and a napkin to wrap it in, making a sandwich for tomorrow. She also snags the kiwi, given for dessert, for later. We’re not above hoarding food and stealing napkins; we’re pilgrims.

At the end of the dinner, Terry says he’s grateful. He was just joking to his wife about how he didn’t want to be like a cartoon character, Billy No Mates, and now we’ve gotten him off to a good start on his solo camino.

In the middle of the night, I wake up and can’t sleep. I’m itching and hot. I refrigerate my water bottle, so it will be cool when we start out tomorrow. Maybe its the regular routine, or maybe its the physical exhaustion that comes with walking more than 15 miles a day, but this is my first bout with insomnia, a regular occurrence back home, since I started the Camino. I go out to the terrace, and look up at the stars.

Camino Day 6 – Ciraoqui to Villamayor de Monjardin


Today, we are aiming for an ecumenical hostel in Villamayor de Monjardin, figuring we’ll join the Scottish woman before she leaves the camino and goes back home.

On the road, we stop at a Church of St. James in Estella, which has a lot of steps. We are fools. We will eventually stop visiting every grand old church we come across, but we’re still Camino newbies, and still guided in part by the traditional tourist impulse. The cloisters are nice though. We see Anthony, Eleen and Chris talking at the bottom of the stairs, and they greet us, saying “The Americans have arrived!” Ad the church, we get a stamp from a nice old lady who tries to speak English. She says “good journey” and Dorcinda has no idea what she’s saying.

Fuente de vino. Fuente divina, de vino, divino. A group of pilgrims at our last hostel had excitedly told Dorcinda about a fountain that give out free wine at a little town called Irache, and they’re shocked that we had never heard of it. Sure enough, it’s there in our guidebook, but Pious John makes only a grudging reference that we skimmed right over in our focus on the routes and planned stopping points.

We meet a Pennslyvanian woman named Alice at Irache, and she asks us to take a photo of her sipping wine from her cockleshell. We love the idea and ask her to take the same photo of us. There is nothing new under the sun. The wine is chilled, and better than expected from a free spigot in the wall. There’s a webcam which takes pictures of pilgrims drinking. I consider buying a bottle of water at the vending machine here and dumping it out to make room for wine, but its hot and I don’t imagine the wine will help with the journey ahead.

We walk for a while with Alice and she’s very fast. We sympathize with her, she’s a 27 year old stockbroker who wanted to change her life, but her job convinced her to take a leave of absence instead of quitting for the Camino, and then her mom insisted on tagging along rather than letting her go it alone. At a fork in the road, Alice takes the scenic route ahead and we take the main route.

A little further on, we pass her mom, and she’s a real grim puritan character. She doesn’t want to chat with us, but Dorcinda at least informs her that Alice went a different way. The mom says she’s a fool, and that they’ve left bags  in Monjardin, while backpedaling to Irache because they missed the wine fountain on their way in. The mom is Polish, which maybe explains her negativity, or maybe its just the heat, and frustration at backpedaling. We pray for a St. James intervention, and Dorcinda offers to take the bags ahead from Monjardin if Alice is delayed getting back from the scenic route, which bypasses the town. Fortunately, Alice has already raced ahead and come back to Monjardin by the time we arrive, and they are able to get their bags and go on without too much searching for each other or time lost.

When we arrive at Monjardin, we meet a few travelers from Ciraoqui, Jeff the Canadian preacher, Steve the English guy, Maddy from Australia, and Brenda from the Netherlands. They seem like a pretty tight pack, and they’re all soaking their feet when we arrive. Jeff and Steve complain loudly about Salvatore’s snores, and we find out that they were the ones who went upstairs to sleep on the terrace. They were the ones who alerted Dorcinda to the existence of the wine fountain.

We are greeted by younger american missionary types, from Minnesota and texas, as we get in. The American volunteers are churchy, but seem nice enough. Things start to go downhill when we move inside for a shower and a break. There’s bad singing coming from a room nearby, and outside I can hear one of the German travelers badgering one of the volunteers about her refusal to drink wine. He tells her it can be a spiritual experience, it can bring you closer to God, and your fellow humans. She says she just doesn’t like it, and has to repeat herself two or three times. I later overhear him talking about anger and how God has helped him channel that anger into something more positive. He seems like a real swell guy.

I hate this place.  I’ve already been turned off by the ostentatious piety  of Tom the Englishman and Masha the Russian, and by the excrutiatingly tedious prayer at the convent, and by Eileen’s off-the-wall-sounding conversion experience on the Camino. But here we are at Bible camp.

I nap, and put in earplugs to avoid the lame-o guitar singalong stuff that is happening in the room next door. Dorcinda and I briefly share our condescions towards the music. The guitar guy (A Dutchman who runs? The hostel), has a terrible voice and strums lazily at the guitar, one off-rhythm downstroke hovering around every beat. It is a type of music, where  the point is something other than the music (praise? Communion?) and to me, what’s the point. It’s intentionally graceless, it’s anti-music. Dorcinda says its “self-indulgent, theologically vapid, and annoying-sounding.” It waters down religion into something meant to be accessible, inoffensive, to people used to pop guitar music. And it waters down guitar music into something bland, inoffensive to people used to religion.

Things don’t get any better at dinner, where I find myself trapped between two conversations about God and church-going. I alternate between abject boredom and the perverse desire to get a word in edgewise, but only rarely can interject when the topic strays to something like the Camino or walking or travel or work. Jeff Rock, the gay Canadian priest is talking with a hostel volunteer, Carissa from Texas, and Dorcinda meanwhile draws the attention of the Scotch woman from the convent, who again talks about her religious transformation and her belief in the word of the gospel over any church tradition. We get it, lady. She seems relieved and encouraged to have a receptive audience, though, which must be a rarity for her in regular life. The priest seems like a potentially fun character, but also sort of smug, and I still have a grudge from when we arrived and he asked us if we were Southern. He has a tattoo of a clock on one arm, and the golden ratio image on the other. He tries to bond with Carissa over the idea that they’re both religious, but cool.

“You’re a traditional Texas girl, but you’re sassy,” he tells her. “You’re a little sassy.”

They give us the Gospel of John as a gift to carry with us, and I know right away that mine will go no further than this hostel. People start flipping through it, which starts a whole new round of religious talk. I manage to weakly interject that one of the referenced sections, Jeses and the Samaritan woman, was the subject of our really boring prayer at the convent, but fail to stay engaged. Jeff makes a point about how marriage used to be so pragmatic – a man brings home the money, a woman cooks and cleans, and love is there but not the primary point – and how we are still evolving into how to find and define marriage in a more equal and idealistic society. I sense a topic that my secular self could dig into, but am immediately cut off by Eileen, who says that the most important thing in any marriage is each person’s relationship with God, and goes on to tell a boring story about her Christian friend who married a non-Christian and struggled with anger issues until he converted. So many of these holy roller types talk so often about letting go of anger, letting go of hate and prejudice, and I wonder wha the big deal is, and to what extent their lives revolve around considerations of anger hate and prejudice and negativity. Stop talking so much about letting it go and just let it go already!

Camino Day 5 – Cizur Menor to Ciraoqui


We get a nice early start from Cizur Menor and we’re out the door by 7am. Masha has not forgiven us for failing to turn out the light sharply at 10pm, as she had demanded.

On the road, Masha passes us, but makes a wrong turn and ends up behind. Perhaps she is embarrassed and doesn’t want to see us again, but she strikes up a walking conversation with another pilgrim, not from out hostel, just behind us. Her voice is loud, and to escape it, we bust our butts to move a bit further ahead.

Not long into the morning, we reach the Alto de Perdon, the “mount of forgiveness” which hosts an impressive pilgrim monument composed of two-dimensional metal statues making a silhouette of a pilgrim procession. The view earned a place in the movie The Way, which is a common point of reference among English-speaking pilgrims, even though the less sentimental pilgrims (and there are a few of us!) tend to take a dim view of it. Appearing forty-eight minutes into the film’s run time, it marks about the 40 percent completion mark for Martin Sheen’s cinematic journey. But at km 81.5, we’re just over 10 percent of the way to Santiago (not to mention Finisterre, which is our ultimate goal).

Later in the morning, we see Anthony again, and he tells us he plans to go all the way to Estella by the end of the day. We wish him well. We also meet a Serbian, who has lived in California and has a son there, but says he moved back to Serbia after retiring because California is no place for an old man.

We stop at a town called Obanos, and eat lunch, purchased from a grocery store, in the shade of the church. We get peaches, a Twix bar (uneaten until the next morning), and sandwiches of cheese and really good jamon (31 euro a kilo, though we only get 4 slices).  The Serbian joins us, and offers us olives, so we have a feast, all for 8-something euro. We walk through Puente La Reina, a Brierly stopping point, without spending much time there, just admiring the old bridge as we pass.

We make good time and stop, as planned, at 2pm, after 14.9 miles. In a sleepy town, which is described only as a as an old Templar town in our guidebook, called Maneru. I make for a hostel bar and we drink orange juice and water. I want to stay, and Dorcinda initially agrees, but then decides that the town is too boring and tries to convince me we should go for our stretch goal and walk another 1.6 miles to Ciraoqui, which is described as more charming in our guidebook, though it too only warrants a sentence. She fails to convince me. Its about the journey, not the destination, I say, and the journey, in this heat sounds horrific. My legs still hurt, despite help from the pole today. The afternoon sun is brutal.

The Serbian walks by, and I rush out after him to tell him we plan to stay here, rather than Ciraoqui, which is what we told him in Obanos. He doesn’t seem to care much, and says he plans to walk on the Ciraoqui, in the heat, and probably the next town after that. He is a fool, I think.

Dorcinda is still sulking when I return. After an hour of sitting around, I get impatient with her and surrender, walking to Ciraoqui to avoid a whole afternoon spent moping and brooding.

As I walked in the hot afternoon sun from Maneru to Ciraoqui, I considered the pros and cons of murdering Dorcinda. I recalled the legend of St. Felicia, and St Guillen, a brother and sister who traveled the Camino, which we have just learned about in Obanos.

According to the story, they were children of the powerful Duke of Aquitaine. Felicia went first, and, after her pilgrimage, renounced her wealth and position to live as a maidservant. Guillen tries to talk her out of it, reminder her she’s engaged to be married, and has her family’s honor to consider. But she refuses to return, and Guilllen, in a fit of rage, murders her. Then, overcome by guilt, he makes the pilgrimage himself, then renounces his title and dedicates his life, in a hermitage, to helping poor and the pilgrims. Obanos has a relic of Guillen’s skull, in a silver case, and had commemorated the legend with spectacular theatrical productions beginning in 1965. The costumes have become relics of a kind as well, and are preserved and occasionally displayed, from what we heard in town. I figure I’m already on the way to St. James, so if I murder her here, I think I have a pretty good shot at redemption, and working in a pilgrim hostel doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend the rest of my life. I put the odds of murder at about 50-50.

I move as fast as I can to get out of the brutal sun, for once leaving Dorcinda far behind. She catches up to say thank you, but I can barely grunt out a your welcome in response. I leave her behind again.  My balls are chafing and it is a pain unlike any I’ve ever felt before. Sweat pours into my eyes.

We arrive at Ciroqui around 4, and it’s a reunion of sorts. Sydney, whose name is actually Anthony, is there, considering whether or not to stay. He thinks its too expensive, 11 euro a night and 11 euro dinner, so he moves on and tried out his tent, which he’s been toting and hasn’t used. The proprietor, a kind woman, suggests a nice spot by a river up ahead, sheltered in his bridge. He decamps.

We shower, and I almost cry from the pain and relief that comes as water washes my chafed balls. Wash our clothing in a basin and hang it out to dry. We buy two beers and an orange soda, and write in a covered alley that seems to be the waiting room of a doctor’s office, sunflower seeds littering the floor. It’s not exactly quiet – women from town walk by and say hello, and a car drives around blaring advertisements for a circus – but its fairly secluded and I make good progress.

Dorcinda finds out about a fountain in the day’s walk ahead that offers free wine, and we enthusiastically add it to our itinerary.

At dinner, we are seated by two Italian cyclists who have arrived late. The hostess is apologetic, which we don’t understand at first, but they are cartoonishly loud characters. Marco, high strung and grey haired with glasses, and Salvatore, a sunburned bear of a man. Marco asks, then takes out picture, but we foolishly decline to reciprocate, and have no visual momentos of them. Their accents are ridiculous, Marco’s piping voice would seem offensive if we had cast a non-italian to play him. They are larger than life and they joke constantly. The hostess asks if they are friends from Italy, or perhaps brothers, given their easy rapport. But no, they met yesterday on the road from St. Jean Pied de Port.

Dorcinda asks if they plan to go the whole way together, which strikes me as a partifcularly weighty question, given the pace at which we’ve picked up and dropped companions. They hesitate and Marco answers yes, all the way, they have a pact.  Marco says we don’t look like brother and sister, and I try to make a joke, saying wait until her beard grows in, you’ll see it then. Marco laugsh and translates to Salvatore, who doesn’t speak English. Success!  Marco says we must try pulpo gallego in Galicia, and we say we never grew up eating octopus, the first time was when I was 16 and our fisherman uncle caught one for dinner one day in Puerto Rico when we visted. It’s not that common in NY I say. Marco, seizes on that and says “ What?? You mean they are not crawling all around the streets, flopping around?” he laughs uproariously. Marco complains dramatically about the routes that Salvatore chooses – he is quiet, but apparently quiet ambitious on his bicycle. Marco waters down his wine, which he says is too strong. Salvatore makes sure Dorcinda eats first when food arrives, and when she clears her plate, threatens to tall the hostess that she hasn’t eaten anything at al. Again, when an extra dessert is brought out, he insists that she eat it, and she has to decline several times. Eventually Marco goes for it. After dinner,  we talk about the heat of the day, and I ask the Italian word for lobster, pointing out Salvatore’s dramatic sunburn. Marco laughs and translates to Salvatore, who smiles.

My appreciation for the Italians dims a bit when, after dinner, they stop to argue right in the doorway of the hostel, forcing me and two Spanish women, walking behind them, to wait as they discuss at some length whether the bell in the church across the square will continue to ring all night long. Salvatore says it will, and Marco doesn’t believe it. The Spanish women and I exchange glances unsure of how to proceed. The Italians gesture so wildly that there’s no chance of sneaking past without getting backhanded, and they are so loud that getting their attention to interrupt them seems like a fools errand. They are totally unaware of the traffic jam they’ve caused. Eventually, running out of ways to say “yes” and “no” they move inside and we follow.

I sleep horribly. First someone (I later find out it is Salvatore) snores so loudly that my earplugs seem ridiculously inadequate. Second, the bells do, in fact, ring all night, on the hour, quarter hour, half hour, and three-quarter hour. The church is just across the way, so the bell comes into our room, clear as, well, a  bell.

Later, we find out that other travelers regarded Salvatore as a kind of monster. The gay Canadian priest jokingly warns the ecumenical hostel where we stay the following night about him and tells them not to let him stay there. He says the Italian was rude, for not responded to his hello/hola, and for shuffling loudly in his bag after other had bedded down and for not turning the light out when he was done. An Englishman, Steve, said that the snoring was so loud that it shook not only the Italian’s bunk, but the one adjacent as well, which is quite a feat, since we had already been impressed by the sturdiness of the frames (after the creaky beds in the convent, we checked). Apparently, several people from our room, fleeing Salvatore’s snores, decided instead to sleep in the open air of the terrace above, despite subjecting themselves to even more direct noise from the church bells. Salvatore is their bugbear, their Russian. I get the sense that the next time they tell the story, the walls of the whole place will shake in rhythm with his breathing. Which seems like only a slight exaggeration.

The next morning when we leave, Marco reminds me, “Don’t forget the octopus!” I think to myself, Don’t forget the lobster. 

There’s no breakfast there, and the self-service coffee machine is broken, so we leave uncaffeinated around 630 to 7. At the net town we meet the Scots woman from the convent, Eileen, and her new friend, an Australian pilot named Chris who had begun walking at 3am. And also Anthony again, who is pleased at his camping experience, calling it the best nights sleep he’s had. It seems to be a theme – an older american couple from California tell us the same thing – they stayed in the boring town we abandoned, the very place where we had orange juice, and had a wonderful nights sleep – there were just four people in a room meant for a dozen. I bite my tongue.