MY CAMINO: Walking, Wine and Golf

A few of my favorite things – and on the Camino. (Days 7 – 9)

The pleasant monotony of beginning a days hike in the cool of the morning while the sun is rising at my back continued. I had enjoyed my first non-hostel room in Viana the night before and was enthusiastic to move ahead on the journey.  It was largely a solitary morning. For the first time I used my iPod and listened to James Taylor. While some find his music depressing, I’m a big fan and he often delves often into life’s big questions. (“The Secret of Life,” “Shed a Little Light,” and others. Maybe more on this in a later post.) And sometimes his tunes just fit the mood (“Wandering”). It was particularly useful to have music to distract me from the depressing or at least uninspiring, light industrial landscape approaching and entering Lagronos. The tempernillo grape and Rioja wine dominates the business of the area and this city – headquarters to over 500 wineries. Before doing that though I ran into sisters from Florida and cousins from Holland and Minnesota, both pairs hiking the Camino together.

In contrast to Pamplona, Lagronos is a very modern city, little of its older heritage (other than a few churches, naturally) remain. I stopped for a break and an early lunch at a bar/cafe and within minutes was joined by a 25 year-old Korean woman (Inae – “Eena” – Choi), who recognized me (and me her) because we had crossed paths and stayed in the same hostels a few times since starting in St. Jean. We left together and made the long walk out of the city on sidewalks and through parks together until we finally escaped the suburban outskirts. The afternoon was warmer and we had some hills to climb on our way to Naverrete. Inae started to fad at the end but we finally made the final climb into this very old village. The cynic or critic might note that everyday seems rather the same – walking through fields and vineyards and the spotting a village with a church tower or two and then climbing up into such medieval villages (often more than a couple a day). There is considerable truth to that, but I’m still enjoying everyday and have not had any sense of boredom or monotony (other than the perfect morning sunrises).  We checked into the first hostel we came to and got settled. I headed out for supplies and to see the church.

Naverrete was built into a hill, in a semi-circle around the church in the center of town. The 12th century, Romanesque church features a front piece/retablo from later centuries reminding us not only of the enormous wealth amassed by Spain particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, but of their extraction and export of gold itself from central and southern America.

Day 8 proved to be a fun day for a variety of reasons. Up early again and out of Naverrete just behind a large group (and I could see Inae just up ahead).  Seven kilometers on my own – a wonderfully peaceful time. I rolled into the first town and joined friends from Australia (husband, wife and 25 year-old son) for eggs and bacon. Inae joined us. We also spoke with a young couple from New Zealand and single Spanish woman doing the Camino with her dog.

After breakfast, Inae and I walked together and ran into three families from Barcelona doing “spring break” for their fourth year on the Camino. I walked for an hour with the ringleader mom, who spoke excellent English.  (It is not unusual, especially for individuals, families and/or other groups in Spain, to do the Camino a portion at a time (like a “section hiker” on the Appalachian Trail). The families formed two spirit lines on either side of the trail and cheered “bueno Camino” (with appropriate arm movements) as Inae and I passed between the lines. I continued on and enjoyed another two walking among the vineyards – after all, we were now in Rioja.

After a 23 km day, I settled into the only albergue in town. My new friends from Boston were there as were my Australian family. Two to a room (which is very unusual) and – who was my roommate? – but Mike from Wales, a 55 year-old I had met the prior day in a town 30k east. Dinner with Andy, Jan, and Matt (the “Aussies”) and Mike joined us at the end of the meal.

The next morning, I was out before sunrise once again. This time following my friends from Boston. At times we needed our torches (flashlights for North Americans) to find the way markings in the dark fields and vineyards. We had a 10k climb into Ciruena – a true ghost time. Not unlike abandoned towns after the gold rush ended in the American west, this town features completely constructed, fairly high-end single family residences, apartments, condos, and various flats. In a town with 131 people, it was odd – to say the least – to see perfectly good housing for another 4,000 just sitting there, completely unoccupied. And, perhaps even more out of place is the Rojo Alta Golf Club – a course that was described as the Augusta National (or the Independence Golf Club) of northern Spain.

I enjoyed my walk through Santo Domingo de la Calzada – a town named for Saint Dominic who is credited with greatly improving and expanding services along the Camino in the 11th century – which is something we have to keep reminding ourselves, that these cities and the route (this Way”) carried and cared for Christian pilgrims over 1000 years ago. I finished a very aggressive hiking day of 38 kilometers** by climbing up and down three more of these hilltop villages and settling in for the day in Belorado.

[**I actually hiked an additional 2k (not in this day’s total) when – a little too engaged with the music on my iPod – I missed a turn and headed deeper into a farmer’s fields. As luck would have it (and we know I’m lucky, I mean blessed), the farmer came along, pointed out my mistake, and then had me hop up on his tractor and get a ride back to the point where I missed the turn.]

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