Logrono and Najera
A freight train forced my eyes open at five in the morning, or that was my assumption upon waking to the noise coming from inside the bunk room. The albergue had a large number of Korean walkers within its dorm who were up and out the door at that time, unfortunately the man snoring was not one of them. Inside my sleeping bag liner (which I was using because of my bed bug paranoia) I was shivering! A drastic change from the previous week of sweltering autumn heat. We were nearing the desert and the morning was definitely cooler. Puffs of mist escaping our lungs like wisps of dragon breath as we walked into the still clear morning air. Back to our rhythm of walking.
One foot in front of the other we walked the dusty, stone ridden paths. Yellow arrow after yellow arrow, we followed the Camino shell, ticking away the seemingly endless kilometers.
“Wait, stop!” I called ahead to Royce as we traversed down a steep, rocky hillside dotted with the occasional tree. I had stopped at one particular gnarled looking tree on the edge of the track. Royce looked back at me eyebrow raised.
“I think this is a snack tree!” I exclaimed excitedly, bending down to pick up a small, golden-brown oval shaped nut. Royce came back up the track grinning, I had stumbled (literally with my knee 🤣) upon an almond tree!
“We have one problem” I said as Royce reached me. “We have no way to open the tree snacks!”
Royce told me not to fear and put one of the many rocks dotting the landscape to use. He cave manned his way into several almonds scattered on the ground, for a hard earned trail snack to keep us going.
Logrono (our destination for the day) was a smaller city dotted with gardens, known locally for its tapas bars. Situated in the Northern Rioja region of Spain, it is the center for trade in Rioja wine. Something we became VERY fond of during our walk across Spain. MAS VINO!
After I topped up on some pain killers for my knee and picked up my backpack from the donkey drop point. We found the cities market streets. Lining the inside of a small block in the narrow city streets, smells of raw fish, chicken and red meat assaulted our senses along with the aromatic fragrance of paprika common in Spain’s dried sausage; chorizo. With my broken Spanish and the butchers better English we finally acquired more sausage! And not just any sausage, but a horseshoe shaped, dual sausage containing half chorizo and half saucisson! It hung among a variety of chorizo’s, saucisson and large, whole, cured pork legs. A sight we came to associate with Spain, along with of course Tapas!
Logrono was our first experience with Spanish tapas bars. Spain’s culture is very big on food, particularly when your eating. In contrast at home in New Zealand there are aspects of the culture that when your drinking you shouldn’t be eating. “Eating’s cheating.” This is not the case in Spain! Further west along the trail you couldn’t order any alcoholic drink without it being accompanied with a complimentary tapas. This wasn’t the case in Logrono, despite this we were determined to try some of the delicacies in the bars display cases. Eight days in to our journey however was taking its toll on the both of us. We had only had one really good nights sleep and I was still paranoid about bugs and quite sore. Royce was frustrated at my stubbornness to keep walking, which I perceived as frustrated at how slow I was walking. this all blew up (through a lack of good communication) in our first Camino couples dispute. The catalyst being where we wanted to eat.
Most pilgrims we came across were either solo travellers or walking with mum, dad, sister ect. Royce and I were definitely among a minority to be walking the Camino as a couple. We have had practice living out of each others back pockets as we have backpacked together in foreign speak countries, and been living in a foreign country for over 12 months. This however did not mean that we were immune to the stress a journey such as this puts on a relationship. A break down in communication compounded with our tiredness, being sore and the physical and mental tax of the journey. The Camino is a walk yes, but ultimately it’s a journey. Your mindset changes as you walk. The people you meet alter your perception of the world. You learn how far you can push yourself, how much more resilient you are or aren’t then you thought. And thats just for yourself, when you through in the wants and needs of another person, it adds a layer of complexity that doing that on your own don’t have. We didn’t talk about our frustrations immediately. I only saw my inability to keep up as being a burden, which had we discussed it I would’ve found this wasn’t the case. For those who make the call to walk El Camino with your significant other my best piece of advice is keep talking. You have plenty of time on the trail to voice your thoughts, you just have to have the courage to do so.
Our heated exchange in the dimly lit, empty Logrono street resulted in us eating separate tapas meals, in separate bars that night. (Don’t worry we made up.) I found myself in a wine bar, I was on the hunt for vegetables. These are frustratingly hard to find at times along the Camino trail. Wine in hand I settled for yet more sweet peppers and some asparagus and courgette wrapped in.. You guessed it more meat. Surly bacon doesn’t have to go with EVERYTHING!
I awoke early the next morning and had made the call (much to Royce’s dismay) to start carrying my backpack again. Not carrying it meant we had to decide the night before exactly where we were walking to. (so we could send the donkey to the right town.) As weren’t booking beds in advance if I had my pack with me we could decide at any town to call it quits for the day. Our walk out of the city was long and tense our argument still in the forefront of our minds. We both cooled off as the sun rose and were in good spirits again when we came across our second “Snack tree.”
Our previous snack tree had lulled us into a false sence of security and we were unaware that we shouldn’t try picking the almonds off the tree. Royce broke into a couple and I stuck two in my mouth at once and promptly pulled a face of pure disgust.
“What’s wrong?” Royce asked still cracking open nuts
“That’s terrible!” I cried, Royce tried a small portion of the nut he had just cracked open. He made a similar face as I tried in vain to remove the foul, overpowering sour marzipan flavour from my tongue. I resorted to ripping open a bag of chocolate biscuits to drown out the taste.
“Apparently they aren’t ripe yet.” Royce shrugged I gave him an accusing glare as i crunched down another biscuit.
The heat blared down on us as we walked, the endless vineyards interrupted by several kilometers of highway noise as we walked the dusty path beside it. We arrived in Najera late in the afternoon having walked 27 km. I was proud my knee had held up. The municipal albergue in Najera was set down just off the river bank with a beautiful stretch of green grass outside. We practiced some yoga soaking in the nature and getting a few strange looks from local Spaniards.
The municipal was by donation and run by volunteer hospitaleros. The dorm itself was a huge! A long room with four rows of bunk beds dotted up and down in lines. The dorm was practically empty, and we got to pick our own beds which was a nice change. While heading to the showers we overheard a young American girl (who had earlier almost had a melt down because the WiFi wasn’t working. That turned out had been the straw that broke the camels back while she was trying to hold herself together.) Talking about how difficult the journey was so far. Royce and I sat down with her and a couple others to chat.
She hadn’t been prepared for the large numbers of people on the walk and for the quantity of walking next to the road. All the noise and people were overwhelming for her having come from living in almost isolation in a far flung rural area of the Untied States. Over 300,000 people walked the trail in 2019 and those numbers seem to be increasing every year. The Camino is not a trail for people looking for isolation. The trail is about the people, I wouldn’t advise walking it if your trying to get away from people. You traverse everything from city streets, to the endless dusty paths through vineyards, steep passes and shaded forest. The Camino trail has a little of everything, but mostly it has a lot of people.
A small group of us gathered and shared our experiences so far. I told Cara (the American girl) that perhaps her challenge along this journey was to find the peace and stillness within herself, despite the people and the noise. That it’s one thing to find peace in a quiet forest, but another entirely to find your own peace and stillness in the noise of everyday life. Indeed with the constant footfall of other travellers and noise of the highway I could understand the challenge. We saw many pilgrims walking with headphones in, drowning out the world as they crossed the Spanish countryside. I hopefully gave her a different perspective. And it made me also reflect on the ways in which we shut out the world at times, often without actually finding that quiet stillness in the chaos. And sometimes it is easier to deal with the chaos of life, then that of your own thoughts. But maybe that’s why I was walking the Camino trail, to come to terms with my own chaos and learn to find that peace.
Thanks for tuning in don’t forget to hit the like button and if you haven’t already, subscribe and join our flock to receive updates on all the latest blog posts as they arrive. Next time we have our first experience with a proper donativo albergue and walked over 35km in a day. See you next Wednesday to read all about it!