Friday, April 12: 7:45 am; destination and daily mileage: ???

This is a morning report from Logroño. By the time I publish this post, I will have added another subtitle or changed the one above. For now, I’m trying something novel: writing this from the (relative) comfort of my bunk in the dormitory. About this room: as far as I can calculate, there must be space in here for at least 26 bodies. Ginny and I and a woman from Columbia are at the far end, and for all practical purposes we have our own bathroom. There may be five or six people at the other end, and, if so, they have been extremely quiet or, as was the case for us, they found yesterday exhausting and have decided, like us, to sleep in.

“Katy, could we maybe possibly consider sleeping in tomorrow morning?” Ginny asked me last night. And so the decision was made to forego the 6:00 am alarm and let nature take its course. And did it ever! Definitely the best sleep I’ve had since beginning the pilgrimage. Drool and all! I referred to the “relative comfort” of this albergue. I believe it’s the first one that didn’t provide some type of sheet to put over the plastic-encased mattress and pillow. Strike one. When we happened to pass through one of the downstairs dormitories, we noticed, with delight, how toasty warm it was. “Let’s ask if they might turn the heat on upstairs for us,” we brainstormed, only to learn that when the building was constructed, they didn’t make any provisions for heating the second floor. Strike two. To counterbalance those strikes, though: warm blankets for every bed, space enough to let everyone have a bottom bunk, hot water for the shower, and extremely kind and friendly people working here. (Whether volunteer hospitaleros or paid staff I do not know. But so cariñosos and helpful. Last night as I thanked the cook yet one more time, she said she wouldn’t be here in the morning to tell me good-bye, but she wished me a “Buen camino” and a “Buena vida” as she touched her heart. NAMASTE, indeed!).

The really good news we heard last night was that although they would begin serving breakfast at 6:00, we had until 9:00 to show up AND this hostel doesn’t require people to be out until 11:00 am. (8:00 is more standard)

So the real reason I’m writing this morning is that I had a few more thoughts to share about yesterday, and rather than adding them to the already published post for April 11th, which some folks may already have read and won’t have any reason to go back to for an update, I’m tossing those thoughts here. As you surely realize, these posts are for me, to help me recall small details that might otherwise be lost forever. If ten years from now I even know how to turn on a computer and have eyesight enough to read, perhaps some of these posts will bring a smile to my face. (Or who knows? Ten years from now I might be really and truly “resting in peace”… or I may be off hiking in some very exotic locale. Who knows?)

Here’s one funny incident from yesterday. When I was telling about it at the table, Ginny admitted that it had gone right over her head, so she was hearing it for the first time as I related it. So… in the pharmacy last night I was acting as Ginny’s translator. It was clear that the pharmacist knew some English, but she was happy for my services and I was pleased to offer them. I don’t have much to offer with regard to first-aid know how, but I can translate, and so I did. At some point in the process of paying, the pharmacist said “Eight” to Ginny-whether to tell her the price of one particular item or to tell Ginny how many more euros she owed, I don’t recall–and I looked at Ginny and said, with all the earnestness of a faithful translator, “Ocho,” not realizing that, silly me, I was doing a reverse translation. Ginny may not have realized it, but the two pharmacists behind the counter got a huge kick out of it, as did I. (If this doesn’t strike you as funny, then 1) you had to be there or 2) I didn’t explain it well or 3) you have to be bilingual or 4) you have no sense of humor [which surely is not the case].)

The other memorable thought that came to me in the luxury of my sleep-in this morning is an encounter we had when entering Logroño late yesterday afternoon. (Aside: this is a relatively large city, close to 200,000 I believe I read. They brought us in, to the extent possible anyway, through a remarkably remote area.) On one of the quiet streets not all that far from bustling ones, we came upon Doña María, an elderly woman (it’s all relative, but can I get by with using that adjective for someone who told me she was 86?). María was sitting behind a table with various Camino souvenirs available for purchase. Tired from our long journey and bearing all the weight we cared to bear plus several additional pounds we’d love not to be carrying, we were about to pass her by. She called out:

“No queréis un sello?” (“Don’t you want a stamp?” [as in: a rubber stamp to go in our credencial, our pilgrim’s passport]. I probably haven’t explained about the passports. We picked them up at the start of the trip, in St. Jean. We have them stamped along the route, at our albergues, at churches we visit, at museums. Technically, one would only need one stamp/day.  When we arrive in Santiago, we present our stamped passports and they are inspected to verify that we have completed the entire journey. Upon passing this inspection, a pilgrim is given a compostela, let’s say a “keepsake certificate,” like a diploma with name and date, fancy, frameable…)

Poor Ginny was so very eager to move on and get some relief for her knee. I was caught between a rock and a hard place because poor Doña María was anxious to tell her story and explain her life’s purpose. What to do?

“Le duele mucho la rodilla (“her knee really hurts”) I explained, indicating Ginny and trying to explain our hesitancy about stopping and getting out our passports. “Pues a mí me duele todo el cuerpo,” she responded. (“Well, my whole body aches.”). There was nothing for it but to let Doña María have her say while Ginny moved on down the street and found a bench on which to to rest.

As the somewhat cranky lady went on to explain (and I’m more than willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, that she may be very, very sweet; she was tired! It was, after all, at least 4:00 pm), she had been out there since 7:30 am, and it was a cold day (I concur) and damp. Her biggest complaint, though, was that so many pilgrims don’t stop. They don’t care about the sello. And hers is a wonderful sello, the first one of the whole Camino, she tells me. (Another explanation: each stamp is unique, picturing the place that issues it or having some symbolic design; the different establishments are proud of their individual stamps.) I learned that her mother, Felisa, began sitting out front daily in 1982 and did so for 20 years, until her death in 2002, at which time Doña María took over the task. “See, it’s all here in this booklet about the region, and this was printed by the government. Don’t just think I’m trying to make it up!” She continued, in Spanish, with great earnestness: “But now, now, is different. The peregrinos of today aren’t like the ones back years ago. They don’t care as much. They don’t take it seriously. Oh, I’m not talking about you and your friend. But many, they just want to have fun. They have it all wrong!” She was getting more animated by the minute. “El camino no es un camino de rosas; es un camino de espinas.” (The real Camino, she was saying, wasn’t supposed to be a “bed of roses,” but rather a “bed of thorns.”)

Did I open my fanny pack, dig out the plastic bag in which, in another plastic bag, I kept my credencial? Get my sello? And then put everything back? You better believe it! I thanked Doña María and headed on my way down the hill–there is always a hill!– to find Ginny. With a sinking feeling in my heart, however, that I had made a bad decision back at María’s little table. I probably should have bought something, even if I later left it behind. I had seen a box with some coins in it, but was afraid that I might offend her if I left money for the stamp. Stamps are generally considered free. Earlier in the day someone had indicated “no” when he thought I was getting money out to pay for one. Still, as I walked down the hill I thought of this poor woman who had sat outside all day with so little to show for her efforts. I wish I had left a euro or two…

There’s a final touching story I’d like to tell about the albergue we’ll be leaving shortly, or about a particular group that was staying there. I had occasion to watch them last night and again this morning at breakfast. (If you are astute you will figure out that I am no longer writing in bed. In truth, it is twelve hours later. I am sitting on the marble steps between the 1st and 2nd floors of the albergue. It is a 9:58 pm and already the lights are off in the dormitory rooms, in the lounge, and even here in the stairway. I am wearing a headlamp to be able to write this. I’m hoping I’ve done a good job of laying out my night clothes so as not to disturb 11 or more roommates as I slip into them in a bit. But back to the group I wanted to tell you about.). Besides the boisterous and jocular pilgrims we’ve been seeing all along, last night there was a large group (14) whom we did not recognize. They were much more subdued. Different. Most didn’t look around or seem to engage even with one another. It was obvious after a while that they were marching to their own drums, that they were “on the [autism] spectrum,” and some pretty far to one end of it. It would appear that about ten of them met the description that I have just given; the other four were the “traveling companions.” It was just very touching to see the kindness exhibited by the caregivers as they helped the men make their way through dinner last night, and again to see the whole pack of them heading out this morning, getting help with the jacket-zipping and with hoisting their packs and getting them buckled so the group could head down the trail. I do not know their story, how far they went daily, how much of the Camino they were attempting to walk. I only know that I was really happy they were able to have this experience and that their companions were kind and patient and trusting enough to set up this experience for them. Who knows but what it might be the most memorable adventure their charges have ever had. Bravo to the organizers and to those funding their trip.

Updating for Day 8: Logroño to Navarrete: 14.35 km (8.9 miles)

So, on to today. Briefly, yes? For your sake and for mine.

I may be happiest when I am in a rural setting or in the woods, but still I delight in being in larger towns (small cities) when there is a lot of activity on the streets. Thus I was happy when we finally hit the streets about 10:30 this morning. Too late for the morning rush hour. Too late to see the chevales heading off to school, but the scene was lively. When you travel in a foreign country whose language you know, there is so much to read and absorb and notice as you walk along. I was almost sorry when we reached, and rather quickly at that, the city’s outskirts.

We came upon, however, a lovely promenade that lead out of town and on which many locals were enjoying a relaxing stroll. Walking for walking sake is definitely a big part of the culture here. Strollers and wheel chairs were being pushed. Seniors were arm in arm or at least pressed close discussing the problems of the world. As traffic thinned, Ginny and I fell into a good rhythm of walking while we prayed aloud together (the lifting-up-of-people-and-situations kind of praying as well as prayers of gratitude for all who are praying for us. And to be honest: we were praying for ourselves as well, our bodies foremost, given Ginny’s aching knee and my sore throat, definitely less of an impediment to walking than the knee problem, but still….)

Before long the extensive promenade lead to a regional park (my term) with a reservoir and, eventually, quite a few mountain biking trails for beginning, intermediate, and expert cyclists. Mostly we didn’t see the trails, but I drooled–2nd time today!–over the map showing the extent of them.

And then…. then we were here, here in Navarrete, a charming town build on a hillside. Steep streets, steep sidewalks (some with handrails, and needed!), plazas, fountains, a beautiful church just off one of the squares and a hop, skip, and a jump from the municipal hostel where again we were paying just 7 euros for our beds.

Of great interest to us: something to eat. Somehow it was probably about 4:00 by the time we had our first food since breakfast, and it at a tapas/pinchos bar around the corner from the hostel. Our fare: a tureen each of garlic soup and a variety of tapas, including vegetarian meatballs, mushrooms, sliced eggplant stuffed with ham and cheese. And wine (by far the cheapest beverage in Spain, it would seem). It filled the need.

In both the albergue’s lobby and at our outdoor table at the Bar Deportivo, we caught up with pilgrims as they arrived, learned who was recovering from what ailment, who was coming down with another, who had rested for a couple of days after bussing forward only to feel well enough to take a taxi backwards and thus be able to continue walking from where she had left off…. Ginny continues to be a master of names and faces. A great skill that I wish I possessed!

I had an opportunity to walk around town quite a bit between the late lunch and the pilgrim’s mass at 8:00 pm. I mentioned that the town is built on a hill. They did not build houses all the way at the top of the hill but there were paved paths leading up to the very top where one could walk around a flat park-like area and see “forever,” spotting other villages and some peaks. Loved the 360 view.

Church: We really got the “full chi-bang” tonight, arriving for the tail end of the Stations of the Cross before mass began, then, after mass, a quick pilgrim’s blessing and moving in a kind of procession to various statues in the church where incense was released (there must be a better word, but it isn’t coming to me). There is a buzz in the air as Holy Week draws closer. Today was, apparently, in Spain, at least, the Feast of the Virgen Dolorosa (Sorrowful Virgin), so her statue, draped in a beautiful black cape (fabric) was front and center. We were invited and encouraged by the ladies in pews ahead of us to participate and follow them up towards the altar to kiss a kind of scapular while the priest asked the Dolorosa to intercede for us and to beg (for good things) on our behalf.

All of which explains why I didn’t get around to eating the microwaveable spaghetti carbonara I had bought until after 9:00 and am finishing up this post at 10:40.

Final observations for the day:

  1. The ringing of church bells is as frequent in Spain as, at home, the noise of ambulance, police, and fire sirens
  2. The doves in Spain sound different than our doves (just as I’ve noticed that the doves in Indiana and Illinois sing a bit differently than those in Minnesota and Wisconsin). Different dialects, I guess
  3. Some dogs here can be like some dogs there: they really get riled up when they encounter other dogs
  4. Brick and cobblestone streets are eye-catching, quaint, ever-present… and really hard to walk on with tired feet
  5. Days are too short! So are nights! But I doubt I’m telling you anything you don’t know

If I manage to get this “published” tonight, I’ll try my hand at uploading some photos to Instagram/Facebook.