The fiesta two nights ago in Navarette was a pleasant surprise. (I note that fiesta and
siesta share the same root, iesta, which surely translates to “Let’s Stop Working Again”). I drank 1-Euro Rioja and ate two bowls of migas for 1 Euro each. On top of the merely 5-Euro albergue, it was a good day out. A live band played Spanish and Latin tunes, and the usual English-language repertoire of Lady Gaga, Tom Jones, and Spongebob Squarepants. Mom and I began singing along to “Delilah” and were joined by Marie Anne. Carrie stayed at a safe distance, for there is nothing so terrifying to a teenager as an adult body animated by music, and it’s a close call whether it’s more horrific for the music to have been produced before the teenager was born or the music is that of the teen and her cohort. Small children chased one another through the crowd.
When we arrived earlier, we were greeted by the piercing sound of an instrument (perhaps a dulcimer) that must have been designed by the court jester of some Navarran king, with the intent of disabling his enemies. It seemed to operate, like a hacksaw, on the region between the ear canal and the spinal column. When we went to investigate the piercing sound, wondering if perhaps there might be old women splayed about in the square, stockinged feet pedaling at the air, desperately trying to cover their ears, we found a stage full of small children, mostly girls and a few boys. The old women were in fact watching, and their ears appeared to be wholly unprotected. The girls were dressed in what was obviously the local traditional dress, snow-white dresses with flowers of fabric sewn on every eight inches or so, and white tights under shoes with red straps that wound up the calves like those of Roman soldiers’ shoes.
The children kicked uncertainly at the music and toward one another in a Jota Riojana that we could see being done correctly by a few older women and some teenage girls. There were a few little boys on stage as well, one of whom, 6 years old, we later saw (shown in the Facebook photos) at a restaurant with his parents and his eight-year-old brother. I got his mother’s email address and sent her the three photos I’d taken of him and the little girl whose hand he held.
Penance on the Camino
When you think of walking the Camino, the first thing you think about, if you are
thinking clearly, is walking. But what you should really be thinking about is snoring. Get 12 to 50 strangers together in a room, and about 1 in 6 will be accomplished snorers. It’s an oddly intimate thing, to be let in on the unconscious behaviors of strangers. And of course the reactions to snorers are universal, ranging from amusement (if the snorer is going at it in the middle of the day and you have nothing better to do) to uncontained rage (if you are trying to sleep). Marie Anne related a story of a German pilgrim who, fed up by the raucous snoring of two other pilgrims, exploded in a Germanic volcano. ”And zen,” she said, making a motion with her hands, “silence.”
“Did you laugh?”
“Of course!” she said. ”Eet was very funny.”
Some hostels will put 50 people in the same room. In others, there might be only 8 or 9. In any of them, a few features could benefit from some consulting:
- Snoring – the solution? White-noise machines in every dormitory room. The quality of sleep would go up greatly for each of the 8 to 50 people. In the albergue at Santo Domingo, they actually had a Special Room for Snorers. It’s a good idea, but what is the incentive for a snorer to sign up to sleep with his fellows? It’s like asking cannibals to share living quarters.
- Fresh air. Walk into a dorm room after people have been sleeping in it for several hours, and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a warm mist of accumulated exhalations. It’s unpleasant, but it’s also a sure-fire way to get sick. Every one of our five-person party has now gotten sick. Solution? Open windows and blankets.
- Early-Morning Noise. I’ve written about noise before. Backpacks should be stored outside the rooms. (Valuables may be kept inside or in a locker). At the very least, pilgrims should take their packs out of the rooms in order to stuff and arrange them and turn bright lights on them. Bathrooms and showers should not be close to the sleeping areas. Signs should stress that talking should be kept to a minimum, and then only in low voices (whispers are actually louder than a low voice). Julio should be barred from all albergues.
A recent discussion on a Camino-related website addresses this very issue:
Why do you stay in albergues? Do you enjoy it??
Is it for the price? Is it because you like the bunks? Snoring? Shared bathrooms?
Is it for the comradeship of other pilgrims? Penitence for past sins?
I am curious why some people actually choose to stay in albergues even when they can easily afford other type accommodations.
I actually do both, but some people seem to believe that not staying in albergues cheapens the experience and is not a “real” Camino. I just can’t figure it out.
I’m thinking the main reason is cost. There is simply no comparing the 5-9 Euros a night with a hotel. Of course, in many of these villages, there aren’t hotels.
We walked about 20km from Navarette to Azofra.
Marie Anne says my face has gotten thinner. I may have lost a few pounds, though I eat a good deal more than I do at home, including fine chocolate by the half-bar. I have been doing this since I was a boy in Germany, and all my German relatives knew that the price of an audience with me was one or more bars of Milka or Lindt chocolate. (They knew better than to buy Cadbury or Hershey).
They’re harvesting the rioja grapes, but slowly. Not far from here, it rained for about 35 days in July and August, and now it’s been sunny for the full two weeks of our stay, a combination that is expected to produce a good grape vintage. Julio is convinced Mom made a pact with St. Peter. We ran across a few vineyard workers who had made a fire out of dead vines and were about to roast an impressive array of sausage and chorizo on it. Mom tried to invite herself over for a bite, but the men didn’t understand her.
The novelty of walking and of small villages was wearing off. My feet still start to hurt after 10 or 15 km, and that makes the walking less than pleasant. I try not to wish it over, I try to stay in the moment, but on some days it’s not what I want to be doing for six hours a day. So my work here is simply not to resist, because walking is what I’m doing. When you resist what is, you suffer, right?
Tired. Maybe a nap. More thoughts than usual today.
Staying in Jersey City for a while – yes. Need winter clothes from Bend. Skis too? Sell some items before movers come – like the sectionals and beds, the big stuff. Get rid of the Land Rover.
Mom soldiered on during the hike to tiny Azofra (“They are so happy the Camino runs through here,” Julio said, “the other towns nearby are so jealous”), in spite of a good deal of pain and discomfort. She has terrible blisters on her toes, and her liver hurts. Once we’d arrived, I went to my room and took a rare siesta, and when I found her again, in the kitchen, she said, “I was in bed and couldn’t even get up.” She went to bed early. I met my roommate, an older Spanish gentleman who assured me that I could keep the lights on and do whatever I wanted and he’d be able to sleep. I read The Girl Who Played with Fire for a while, but the book weighed around a pound and it didn’t make it into my backpack this morning.
As a matter of principle, or something, Julio doesn’t shave while he’s on a walk. But his upper lip got sunburnt, so he shaved it. This made him look Amish, I told him. I think he got self-conscious about looking Amish, so he shaved the sides off, and now he merely looks Chinese again.
Saturday October 1, 2011 Santo Domingo
Mom was still sick this morning, but she was up early, as usual, and cooking German-style crepes (pfannenkuchen, prime ingredient of mine and my sister’s favorite food as children, pfannenkuchen suppe), which she invited Steffi to share. Kiernan, the young Irishman, scored one too.
Mom and Carrie took a taxi (24 Euros) to Santo Domingo. Julio, Marie Anne, and I walked. Marie Anne was also still sick, suffering from an inflamed Achilles tendon, and, according to Julio, not in her usual condition for walking, so we set a slow pace over the 15 kilometers. I left my pack with Mom to take in the taxi; twenty-seven pounds lighter, I moved like Gene Kelly. I used my poles like swords.
The air is noticeably colder. Julio says that as we climb to Burgos, we will need to wear more warm clothing.
The countryside was still rife with vineyards and growing drier by the kilometer. There were more of the elevated cement aqueducts the farmers once used to irrigate their crops; they now use perforated rubber hoses, but the cement is just too heavy to move. One rest area has the following: a water fountain with potable water; three stone lounge chairs; a bench; and, near a fence leading into what is probably private property, a sign saying:
That’s close to “Defecation Prohibited”, or even “Elimination Prohibited” — “As if there’s a government involved,” I said to Julio — but the English version on the sign is simply hopeful: ”Don’t Shit”. But in the nearby tissue nearby I saw ample evidence of violation. (Some Germans pointed out that the graphic, which showed a man leaning forward with one arm bent high in front of him, the other bent high behind, if strictly interpreted, really only prohibited defecating while sprinting).
One panorama not far from Azofra will stick with me. The corduroy golds and browns of fallow fields all helter-skelter of angle, various plots of yellow or green with parallel lines sketched by either ploughs or vines, copses of trees, and finally the hills beyond, from the blue nearest us to the charcoal to the light-grey in the distance. I kept worrying that at any moment I would thrust my walking stick in front of me and tear right through the canvas. Naturally I had no camera on me.
We stopped at the club of our first golf course on the Camino, the Rioja Alta Golf Club, and where there are golf clubs there will be other firsts, like yellow Porsche Caymans and unsuccessful plastic surgery. The bocadillo we at there, though, was delicioso. Leaving the golf club, we passed through a large suburb of hideous (e.g., American-style) boxy apartment complexes that was almost completely devoid of life. ”Se Vende” (For Sale) signs littered every balcony. Here was another example of the crash of the speculative real estate boom in Spain. It was like walking through a post-nuclear-holocaust landscape.
Santo Domingo is named for a man (Domingo) who so failed at his monk studies that he was invited to leave. But he then spent the rest of his life building the area into a way station for pilgrims, and often got royal support for his efforts. The place became a village and now boasts numerous very old buildings, from a cathedral with fine examples of art to a Cistercian monastery. And eventually he was canonized (Santo).
There’s a legend that repeats itself in various places in Europe, “the hanged innocent”. Most of them have the action taking place in Toulouse, but Santo Domingo has its own version. (Legends are the bread and butter of the tourist and pilgrim business, along with relics like shards of Jesus’ cross, patches of his robe, and so on). A man, woman, and their son, all from Germany, pass through Santo Domingo (or Toulouse) and stay at an inn. The innkeeper’s daughter propositions the son, who demurs, and she arranges to have his pack filled with silver from the church. The authorities catch him with it, and he is hanged. (This story could also take place in Texas).
After his parents walk all the way to Santiago and back, they return to the body, still hanging from the gibbet a month later, and are shocked to hear their son assuring them he is alive. ”Santo Domingo supported my weight all month,” he tells them (in Toulouse, it’s Santiago himself). He neglects to explain why no one else has noticed him hanging there alive, or what he ate whilst hanging. The parents leave the boy and run to tell the mayor, who is roasting chickens. He laughs, saying, “Your son is no more alive than these chickens,” whereupon the chickens spring to life, grow back their feathers, and run away.
The town still cares for two chickens. Sheerly by coincidence, Julio and Marie Anne bought about two chickens’ worth of chicken breasts for lunch today, and added scrambled eggs just to get in the whole fowl lifecycle.
We were told that Azofra had a hostel like a fine hotel, but the one in Santo Domingo is at least as nice. Azofra had a cozy enclosed courtyard and a fountain in which pilgrims cooled their feet. The exterior was a modern design of stone and wood slats. It had a kitchen and rows of dining tables. It even offered double rooms for everyone – so far unheard of on the Camino. And the washing machine was free. (Curiously, the rooms lacked electrical outlets, so that we were all forced to stretch cords across the dining area to the two outlets available there).
In Santo Domingo, the hostel is several stories high. There is – and I’m not making this up – a lounge with a television. There are a dozen leather, or at least pleather, sofas. A kitchen. Lots of fine pictures of pilgrims walking. The construction is fine. And the showers are peerless. Six hooks on which to hang both old clothes and new, lots of water pressure and hot water, and no timer.
I write this after lunch as Mom saws logs and Marie Anne purrs in a lighter mode. We’ll go to see the cathedral later. There is nothing I would like more than a yoga class right now.