My Life as a Traveler

Los Dos Caminos

The rustling starts at 5am. There’s really no way to be more quiet when you’re trying to stuff your sleeping bag into it’s pouch, put your walking clothes on (if you’re not already wearing them), and zip the pockets of your pack closed. This is the earliest that we’ve gotten up, and to me, it feels great. The Tuesday Sisters are ready to go at 6am. The last couple of days it has been bloody sweaty hot after about noon, but cool in the mornings, so it’s nice to get an early start and walk earlier. Plus, you get to see the sunrise, and the sunrise over Navarette was gorgeous.

On the way out, we met an American, Jack, from St. Louis. He was walking and planning to meet his family in Barcelona when he was done. When we told him we were from Virginia, he asked, “Do you know Morgan?” We said yes, and he proceeded to tell us about this boy who rolled into the bar, ordered a beer, and said, “Man, it’s great to have a beer after a long walk on the Camino!” Jack questioned Morgan’s age, but did not get a firm answer, so he wanted more information about a kid drinking beer all across Spain. Sorry to say, we had no more to give.

We stopped for our orange juice, cafe con leche, and tortilla and bread. This is my favorite way to have breakfast now. Instead of a big buffet breakfast at the albergue at 6am, my system prefers a piece of fruit as I go out the door, then walk a couple of hours before a proper breakfast. I always have a fair amount of energy leaving town, which can flag after a couple of hours. A little coffee and a tortilla (not a buffet of bread, yogurt, cereal, etc. etc.) goes a long way to add a little spring to my step.

Through the vineyards and over the mesa we go. Before entering the town of Najera, we come upon a little beehive-shaped hut. I was going to just snap a pic and walk by, but Susie had gone ahead and found some treasures inside. This hut was made with dozens of smooth stones, about the size of your hand with fingers outstretched. On many of the stones, people passing through had created small artworks on the inside rocks. some were crude, but some were reminiscent of prehistoric cave paintings, using the indentations in the rock to enhance the cheekbones of a face. Beautiful!

Arriving into Najera, we find a river, a bridge, a grassy parkway, and a nice cafe. Good combination for a stop. Uli goes on, preferring to continue 6km more to the next town, arrive earlier and eat then. We enjoy a cold beer, some pizza, and greet other pilgrims we have met along the way as they pass. We see some of the bicyclists at another table; one is sleeping. The bikes, by the way, have to wait until 6pm or 7pm to check in, giving preference to those of us walkers who take more time to get to the next destination. Consequently, many leave later and can enjoy more of a siesta in the middle of the day.

Up another hill and over the rise, we come to Azofra, a small town whose sole existence is to serve the pilgrims that pass through. We find the municipal albergue and as we turn into the courtyard we see… a pool!! Actually it’s just a fountain, but people are sitting alongside of it soaking their feet in the cool water. Ooooh, that looks good. But it gets even better. There are only 2 (two) beds in each room, instead of the 16, 25, or 100 that are available in the other albergues. Hallelujah! No snoring Spanish guys tonight! (Actually, in the last albergue, it was the Frenchmen who were the snorers.) After we shower (no wait) we find that they have a washing machine and it is free!!! Susie finds out too late, but Mary and I throw our clothes in together with a nice South Korean girl. The nice thing about washing by machine is that the spin cycle wrings out water way better than the wringing required by hand washing, so clothes dry fast.

We sit in the shady courtyard and watch the action. There’s a hunky young man who is making dinner in the kitchen (many albergues have a kitchen, not all have a stove with pots and pans for cooking) for 4 young women from Latvia. They laugh and flirt. Uli has her swimsuit on and is dangling her feet in the pool. Susie goes to the store to bring back some wine and we snack on some bread, fruit, and cheese. Life is good, we are walking together, and making good time, to boot.

Then a surprise. Or not really, I guess I should have seen it, I just didn’t want to. Susie wanted to walk the Camino at a slower pace. I figured that would be so, but expected her (and Mary, too) to just take the bus and catch up to me, because I was a faster walker and it was important to me to walk as much as I could all the way to Santiago. To get your Compostela, your Certificate of Completion for the Camino, It doesn’t matter what type of transportation you use for your walk, but you MUST walk the last 100km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. Susie decided that she wanted to walk that last 100km in two weeks instead of the usual 5 or 6 days, walking just a few kilometers a day. That would mean that she would need to be in Sarria, almost 400 miles from here, on June 12th, just 12 days from now. She conferred with our resident expert, Jim, a fellow pilgrim Spanish teacher who had walked the Camino a couple times before, and he told her the best parts to skip and the best parts to be sure to visit. Susie circled them on the map. I racked and racked my brain to try to figure out how we were going to walk together with this plan. Mary wanted to go slower, too, to do a little less walking and more sightseeing.

Walking the Camino is a very individual endeavor. Most people walk alone. In fact, when I visited the St. Jean Pilgrim Office last year to ask some questions, they advised me against taking my friends. They said that people walk at different paces, for different reasons, and to expect any two people to have the same pace is unrealistic. Whether one person slows down (as I did at first) or one person feels they have to speed up (as Susie and Mary surely felt) it just makes that person way more tired, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually, than if they walked at their own pace.

So, do I change my plan and bus/walk with Susie and Mary? Sounds tempting. No more blisters, no more sore knee, no more sweating in the hot sun, no more being so tired at the end of the day all I could do is eat and sleep. But…. the blisters were not stopping me, nor the knee. For me, this was truly a pilgrimage, a goal to walk 500 miles the best I could. It’s a time to meditate, to meet people, to travel on foot and take the country one step at a time. My primary goal is to Walk the Camino, and if I get the chance to sightsee and spend time with my friends, then that’s a bonus. However, I am here to walk. Plus, there is also Morgan, who was walking at about the same pace as I was. What if he needed help?

Yet, I feel extremely sad that I was not able to join my friends in their journey. I’m sure that I am letting them down. When they walk separately, their pictures or stories won’t be in the blog, and so I’m letting their friends, you guys who are reading this to see Mary and Susie’s journey, down as well. Of course, if there was any type of medical issue, I would stop in a second, but it is just as hard for me to walk slowly and depart from my purpose as it is for them to walk my 4km/hr for hours at a time.

So, we decided, at least for tomorrow, for me to walk to Santo Domingo de Calzada, 16km away, and they would take a bus to meet me, we would tour the church, and they would walk the next 7km or so with me to the next city. I went up to my room for a little cry before coming down and going out to dinner with the rest of the Tuesday Sisters.

I set the alarm for 5am.



5 responses

  1. Brad

    Walk YOUR Camino. Each person gives and takes as they can and as they need.

    June 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    • Yeah, thanks! Turning out for the best!

      June 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm

  2. Michael (John) from the OC


    Kathryn and I were talking last night about how important your blog is to us. It broke my heart to leave the Camino in Pamplona but your updates are allowing me follow along in spirit. One request: please include an ugly photo once in a while so we don’t get too jealous. How about some close-ups of blisters?


    June 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    • Actually, I just took some pics of my toes today. Stay tuned!

      June 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm

  3. Mark Dietrich

    Wow….what an adventure.. Detailed to the hilt…I feel like I was there with you all…

    February 6, 2016 at 3:58 am

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