I can’t believe I have walked for 9 days already. Early this morning I passed the 200 kilometre mark, which means a quarter of the Camino is behind me!
I woke up early this morning, even without an alarm. I made a quick stop at a pastelería for a pastry, and then was off. Nájera is the first town where I felt like the way was not really clearly marked. I had had trouble already last night, so I had looked in my guide book in advance. I found my way to a 13th century church, and thankfully the arrows picked up from there. Partly up the hill on the way out of town, my Ohio friends caught up with me. We had a lovely conversation all the way to Azofra, where we made a coffee stop (okay, I hate coffee so I was drinking pop). We continued on together and descended into some mud. And what mud it was! Our guidebooks had actually warned that La Rioja’s red mud might be pretty when dry but dangerous and sticky when wet. No joke! The mud stuck to our boots and weighed them down. For a while we walked in the ditch, just for some relief.
By 10:30 we came up a very long hill into Cirueña. It was a little like something out of Twilight Zone or a Stephen King novel. There was no one in the town! As compared to the so charming and quaint Spanish towns we were used to passing, this one was subdivision housing at its worst – identical, ugly houses. Only about 10% of them looked to be inhabited. We passed one house where a boy was standing at the second floor balcony door, leaning against the glass looking down on us. It didn’t help the creepy feeling. But the next occupied house had all the kids on the balcony waving at us. That made up for it! Are pilgrims the only entertainment they get, though?!
We didn’t stop for a break because there was literally no option beyond a picnic table next to some houses that looked like a prison block. We pushed on and went through some more endless fields of grain. Only one field was growing something else, and we puzzled over what it might be until we came across a plant someone else pulled up. (I’m guessing it was another pilgrim wondering what the crop was.) it was some kind of root vegetable, but I don’t even know what. A rutabaga, maybe?
We arrived at Santo Domingo de la Calzada before noon. That’s where we are stopped for the rest of the day. Our walk was a nice 21 kilometres today, and we get a whole afternoon for cleaning and relaxing!
Santo Domingo bears mentioning. He was a great patron to the Camino in the 11th or 12th century and did a lot of work to make sure pilgrims had bridges to use in order to cross rivers and good roads to walk on. The town bears his name in his honour.
This town also plays host to a famous Camino myth. The story goes that a young man and his parents were making pilgrimage to Santiago and passed through here. The young man caught the eye of a local young maiden, but when he did not return her advances, she hid some silver in his pack and accused him of stealing. The young man was sentenced and hung for his sins. (Different versions have his parents either continuing on obliviously to Santiago at this point or discovering things right away but too late.) When his parents discovered, at whatever point that was, they also discovered that by some miracle Santo Domingo had kept their son alive despite the hanging. They went immediately to the local magistrate, who was just sitting down to supper. When he heard their story, he merely laughed and told them, “Your son is no more alive than this chicken on my plate!” At those words, the roast chicken he was about to eat stood up and walked off. Aghast, the magistrate went out to the tree with the parents and saved the son. (No word on what punishment the deceitful young maiden suffered.)
In honour of this myth, the albergue that I am staying in today, one of the original pilgrim hospitals (in an updated building THANK GOODNESS!) still keeps chickens in the garden. I can hear them as I write!
Even better than that, I took a tour around the cathedral and there are a cock and hen kept IN the cathedral! It’s a coop built into the stone wall at the second level. You can see damage on the front of the stone where pilgrims hit it with their sticks to try to get feathers to prove they’d been there and for good luck!
Santo Domingo wanted to be buried here in the town, and his crypt is in the cathedral. In fact, the street the Camino is on actually jogs around the cathedral because the chapel his crypt is in was added after his death!
It was really nice to have time to really appreciate some of the local history. I paid a euro for an audio guide at the cathedral, but it was worth it. We just don’t build churches like they used to!