Camino Frances 2018 – Ventosa to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

September 16th, 2018 – Day 5
Ventosa to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 32km

A long day, but a day I met and walked with new faces. It was expected to be a hot day again, so I was prepared. It was a Sunday also. So we were prepared for that too. Sunday’s on the Camino are a different kettle of fish.

Patricia, from Logrono, and Karsten, from Germany, left Albergue San Saturnino in Ventosa after 6am after some breakfast. Well, some fruit and coffee, until Najera. We had 11kms to conquer before reaching the River Najerilla and it’s many cafes and albergues. Not that we had planned to stay there. My two companions had open minds, while I had my heart set on Santo Domingo and her two hens! Patricia had taken some time off from work to walk part of the Camino and hoped to walk to Burgos. So she was in no rush. From the off, I could see she was having great difficulty with her pack. Its settings were not right and its weight was on her lower back. And this was her 2nd day. We talked about her summer spent in Ireland while studying English, which seems to be the place to be if you are a Spanish student during the summer months. She had fun, but she did tell me that not a lot of English was learned! Karsten had walked part of the Camino, from Leon, so he knew the score. He liked the silence and only spoke when spoken to. But I enjoyed his sense of humour. This is strange for a German, right? However, we would walk together to Burgos. Little did I know that he had something in common with me and it was great to chat with him about it.

Najera, our first stop, is situated underneath a cliff face and there was an eerie silence about the place when we crossed the Najerilla. There is a great cafe to the left of the river and we stopped there for a 2nd breakfast. We met Jan, from Denmark and Andrew, from Scotland. They were both aiming for Santo Domingo. They were part of the 40k club. They could do big distances each day. I’m not sure I could join them. After our coffees had been finished and our tostadas had been eaten, we sauntered on. Azofra, 6km ahead, would be our next stop.

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Patricia & Karsten in Najera

The distance ahead was pretty straightforward but now the sun was front and centre.  The trail rambled over hills with rocks to one side and vineyards to the other. This is a winemakers heaven here! Plenty of arrows sprayed on the rocks, just in case we don’t take a wrong turn. Azofra is a one street town but it is pretty great. There are a number of cafes and we decided to stop for a bit because Patricia was struggling. I offered some bandage for a new blister. I told her about the municipal albergue here in Azofra, which has a swimming pool. She decided to stay at the cafe, when myself and Karsten reached for our packs. We didn’t meet again.

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It was now coming close to midday and having walked 17km, we had a further 15km to go to our destination. The sun was relentless and there was little shade. The trail now changed from one with a lot of turns, to none. A walk for a long as your eye can see. It was time to dig deep. Karsten pushed ahead, just the motivation I needed. We barely talked until Ciruena but if you need an example in ‘let’s just get through this’, Karsten had it.

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The long walk under the sun to Ciruena

Ciruena is in the unfortunate position to be beside a ghost town that was built beside a golf course. Both Karsten and I stopped for a cold drink here and we met my Irish buddy from the flight. His wife had picked up some nasty blisters and had taxied ahead. That’s the Camino unfortunately. I hoped to meet him later. Leaving Ciruena is like trying to escape from a bank. It can be tricky, to say the least. We eventually found the exit (even though I have passed through here before).

One long stretch, one hill, and one tricky descent before we could see Santo Domingo. I didn’t think I could make it. Karsten wanted to check into the albergue and see the two hens in the Catedral. I’m not sure the viewing of two hens is worth a couple of euro. I’m happier to meet other pilgrims.

With that, I saw Doug. He was talking to a Danish pilgrim who I hadn’t met before. I heard a loud shout “Irish Dave” across the hive of peregrinos – I think the Estrellas were talking! I knew I would catch up with him but not this early. There you go! I better check in and find a bed first.

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The municipal albergue hadn’t changed since I was in it first in 2013 – well, maybe the price! My bed was in “Azofra” on the 2nd floor – more steps to climb. While Karsten checked out the Catedral, I grabbed a mini siesta and then headed out for some money. I met Jan and Andrew whom we met in Najera, and they were with other folks. So I joined them. There were pilgrims from Australia, Sweden, Canada, Spain and another from Ireland. This Irish pilgrim was walking to Santiago and having a great time. Maybe one year, I’ll be able to do the same.

After numerous drinks and tapas, we started to think about a pilgrim meal. It was close to 7pm and everywhere looked full. Who is going to serve a group of 12? Luckily enough we found a great restaurant beside the Parador that provides pilgrim meals. It was a great evening but I have no photos to remember the night due to the battery dying. That is the Camino! Shout out to Andrew for organising the table!

As is the Camino, not everyone were going to walk the same distance the following day. I hoped to walk to Belorado and Cuatro Cantones albergue, while others hoped to walk to Villafranca and Tosantos. While this happens all the time, everyone meets up in the end and a big city like Burgos brings everyone back together again.

Until tomorrow.

Camino Frances 2018 – Viana to Ventosa

September 15th, 2018 – Day 4
Viana to Ventosa, 28km

Today I said goodbye to Navarra and hello to La Rioja as I ventured westward. It was due to be a hot day so I decided on an early start, just to be safe. I was pretty sure I made the right choice as the last few kilometres without shade made it harder.

I set off alone after 6am. The hospitaleros had set out a breakfast that I took advantage of. It’s essential that you have something to eat before you leave in the morning, and then you can have 2nd breakfast at your first stop, and so on! It was pitch black outside so I took it nice and slow. The next few kilometres to Logrono is far from attractive so I suppose early morning is the ideal time to walk it. I left with a full battery and with a full tank’s worth of coffee. The next town will top me up! I said goodbye to Viana and walked under its archway leading back on to the Camino.

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Instant darkness. I put the music away and turned the flashlight on full. I was urging the sun to rear her head over the horizon. I would have to wait another hour for that however. After the Camino brings you through some back roads, you are lead on to the main road. Here you can see the “Communidad de La Rioja” sign. I knew where I was now. But there is a good bit of industrial area to walk through before arriving at Logrono proper.

The sun rises in the background.  I stop for a moment or two. I say goodbye to Navarra and silently thank everyone whom I have met since I have been here. It’s this time of the day I cherish the most. Always happy to see another day.

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I arrive in the city close to an hour later. The party from the night before was just ending, the Fiesta de San Matteo. I spotted an Irish bar – Dublin Bar on Avenida Zaragoza. I know for next time. After the long walk up Calle Marqués de Murrieta, the Camino leads you to a number of parks and to the La Grajera where swans and other small animals are known to dwell. I have passed through here twice before so I look forward to seeing the swans. It is also the first time I see the Scottish pilgrim, Andrew. What strikes me is how fast he walks. He was out of sight in no time. I got to meet the Irish couple who were on the same flight as me. We agreed to meet up and talk again in Santo Domingo de la Calzada a few days later.

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Leaving the La Grajera park, you will pass a long-bearded man by the name of Marcellino who will offer you a sello. Be sure to take one, he is quite a famous peregrino! He was there that morning and was offering everyone a “Buen Camino”.  Once you leave Logrono, you arrive at the side of the main road and you are following that until you stop for the day. The sun was out and I could feel the heat on my neck already. But I had another 10 kilometres to go.

Navarrete was in the distance. Placed on a hill with many vineyards surrounding it, this town is a favourite for pilgrims. I stopped for a little while to soak up the atmosphere. All the cafes were full however so I declined a cafe con leche and had some fruit that I bought the day before, taking advantage of what little shade there was.

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Navarrete

This day was bringing back great memories of my Camino in 2013 when I walked from Logrono to Leon. I met so many good people that year, most I am in contact with to this day. I hoped this year would be just like 2013 but I didn’t want to compare. I wasn’t here to make friends, I was here for the experience.

The final 8kms to Ventosa were the toughest I have walked in a long time. The heat seemed to be increasing with each hour and this pale Irishman became this pink Irishman very quickly. There were pilgrims taking rests under trees and haystacks just to avoid the worst of the heat. I arrived at Ventosa at 1pm. It wasn’t opened yet but there was a queue. Patricia from Logrono had just walked her first day on her Camino and decided to finish here. She had good English but she was looking forward to her siesta!

After washing my clothes, I checked out the local restaurant and had the pilgrim meal. Not bad for €11. I met Madalina from Canada, the French part. She had walked from Logrono so I bought her a glass of wine for her efforts. I noticed she had a patch on her arm and asked: “Is this for Type 1, Diabetes?”. She said it was and I explained that I needed to carry a large supply of medication with me on Camino also. So it was nice to open up about our respective conditions. She said that she was aiming for Santo Domingo tomorrow, but there was no guarantee. After a few hours talking, we walked back to the albergue and prepared for the next day.

I met Karsten in the albergue that evening and myself, Patricia and Karsten arranged to walk tomorrow. Adelante!

 

Camino 2013 – Day 1 – Logrono to Najera

It was 4am before I closed my eyes last night. I’m not sure if this was down to pre-Camino nerves or because I was close to a bar on the main street. I tossed and turned through the night but I only managed a few hours sleep. It didn’t seem to bother me though. Anyway, I got up and ready around half 5, and I was out the door at 6. There were others in the same hotel walking the Camino as I heard movement just before I got up.

When I opened the door, it was pitch black save for a few lights in the centre of the main street. The sun was peeking from the horizon and a few peregrinos were starting out for the day. Dammit I was waiting for this day for a long time.

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Logrono was empty, dark and hardly a car on the roads. Must have been something to do with it being a Sunday. As you leave Logrono, the Camino cuts through a large park, with plenty of green and trees. There were a few locals out walking their dogs, or taking an early morning stroll. It was cold and I couldn’t see a cloud so the day had great potential. It had been raining badly throughout the North of Spain for the last week so maybe this was some respite? It took a while to get out of the city; it is really big but it wasn’t until I got to Planta de Granjera, that it hit me where I was. This is a large man made reservoir and it is home to many fish and birds. Although it was close to 7 at this stage, there were groups of men fishing on its banks. They shouted out Buen Camino as I passed. I shouted out a “Gracias” to them all as I passed. Strangely enough, I hadn’t passed any other pilgrims this morning. Maybe it was too early?
I was picking up a heavy pace and soon after, Naverrete peeked it’s head over the horizon. It is a large enough town on the base of a large hill. That was 10km I covered. I was surprised by that pace to be honest and the last thing I wanted to do was pick up an injury on my first day. I walked through the town bright eyed hoping to spot movement, but there was nothing to be seen. I wanted to stop off here for a cafe con leche and rest my legs. I also wanted a wooden pole for the remainder of my trip but there were no shops open. My back troubled me last year and maybe one could help. I found a cafe and ordered a cafe con leche and tostada con queso. Yum! I had a short stumbled conversation with a pilgrim from Barcelona. He didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand me. We both laughed and wished each other a Buen Camino.

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I left Naverrete and the sun was out in full now. It was pretty warm and out came the hat and off came the fleece. Out came the earphones also, I needed some music. Again my pace was getting faster and I was getting close to Ventosa which is 1km off the trail. At the start of the day, I was in two minds whether to stay here or continue to Najera. I went in for a coffee and hoped to meet some people. There were quite a few there. I met a man from England who had a large backpack and a strong laugh. He was fun. There were also people from Germany, Italy and a few college students from the States. There was also Colin from Singapore and we walked for a bit. Next stop Najera 11km ahead.

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I felt a hotspot on my foot but I decided to wait until I got to Najera to do anything. It wasn’t causing me too much bother. Colin was good fun, he had great english and I had hoped to tag with him until I reached Najera. We walked together for a bit but he was a little slow so I wished him a Buen Camino and walked on. I hope to see them all tomorrow at some stage. Eventually I arrived at Najera after a grueling day in the sun. It is easily an hour to get there once you see the city in the horizon. I passed a funny looking dome of some kind and scrolls with verses in Spanish written on a wall. I took a few photos and moved on. I had booked a pension called Hostal Hispano for the night. It’s a nice place and dinner came with it. No shops or pharmacies are open though. Again, they take their Sundays very seriously here. The town is on the banks of the Najerilla, a rather large river. I ventured around for a while until 6pm and settled in for the night. Tomorrow I’ll be on the lookout for a wooden pole, an open pharmacy and more peregrinos to talk to.
Next stop – Santo Domingo de la Calzada. A shorter day.