Santo Domingo de la Calzado to Belarado – This Post Sponsored by Ibuprofen

Foot Massage – With or Without “Happy Ending?”

In Santo Domingo I tried out for the first time one of the foot massagers that, along with Internet-ready computer terminals, are staples of the hostels on the Camino de Santiago.  For 2 Euros, I was promised 10 minutes of massage.  I read the instructions, and that’s when I got nervous.

Put the feet within the machine and chooses the Kneading bellboys and vibrating the intensity of the massage and the vibration

I scanned the room to see from where the kneading bellboys could be expected to appear.  Would they arrive wearing costumes?  Would they even speak English?  Would they have hunchbacks and unusually strong hands?  Still, I was game.  I inserted my money, and then my feet.

Immediately a hospitalera rushed over to hand me some prophylactics to slip on my bare feet.  Now I was really nervous.

It was only when the machine began to bang and vibrate that the CAUTION written on it started to make sense:

Not recommended for minors of 12 years, embarrassed or people with Hypertension.


When it was over, the older, male English hospitalero asked me how it had gone.

“Where,” I asked, “are the cigarette vending machines?”


Leaving Santo Domingo de la Calzano

Mom was running a manufacturing facility in her sleep last night, and she did all the sound effects herself.  When she stopped, or maybe before, one of the Japanese took over, turning in an impressive performance on behalf of his countrymen.  When all this is over, I definitely see him in the medals, certainly on the podium.

We were up at 5:30a.m., also known as oh-God-thirty, and on the road not long after 6, just ahead of the Japanese.  We walked in the dark, beneath starry skies.  It felt good to be underway.  It was chilly, though, and a slight wind made it colder.  I put on my wool cap and gloves.  We passed a herd of sheep, fenced in.  The sheep dog eventually barked at our intrusion, but by then I had given the mutton the detailed escape instructions they would need.

“Did you get your computer?” Carrie asked me.  I hadn’t had an outlet near my bed and had been charging it under hers.  I said I had.

“Are you kidding?” Mom said.  “He’d forget his mother before he’d forget his computer.”

“That’s going in the blog!” I said.

Most of the path ran parallel to the national highway that runs between Logrono and Burgos; in a few places, we stayed on the highway rather than take detours through tiny villages that were all closed up in any event.  “Thees one goes to a village where there is notheeng,” Julio said.  “Three extra kilometers for notheeng.  What you want to do?”

“Let us never go to nothing,” I said.

The beautiful landscapes, though, were behind us, and the vineyards had been replaced by fields of what used to be wheat, now cut down to eight-inch stalks.  The land was growing drier and drier with every step.

Mom was hurting.  I could see it in her face and in her step.  The toes of her right foot were painful to look at.  Her kidneys hurt.  And during a trip into the weeds she cried out, “I’m a bloody mess!”

“You can always take a taxi or bus from the next town,” I told her.  Julio had now come back to check on her too, and we stood there, the three of us.

Her eyes welled up, more from frustration than from the pain.  Mom is, in her own words, “a tough old broad.”

“I don’t want to ride everywhere,” she said.  “I want to walk this.”

I put a hand on her shoulder.  “It’s okay, Mom.  Whatever you decide.  What about your ibuprofen?” I asked.  “Have you had any today?”

“Oh,” she said, now hopeful.  “I could try that.”

Before it could start working, we stopped again in a café-bar in Grañon.  Sitting at a table in the bar, she looked disconsolate.  “You don’t have to walk every bit of it,” I said.  “All you’re supposed to do is your best.  There’s no rule about how much we have to walk, or how fast.  The whole point is that you do what you can, but no one expects you to do more.  You’re probably walking through more pain than anyone here.”

We had our morning desayuno – coffees, teas, drinkable yogurt for me – and I worked on Mom’s back, near her kidneys, drawing out the negative qi, sending forth loving qi.  Mom asked how far it was to the next village.  4.4km, Julio said, consulting the chart they give you at St. Jean Pied de Port.  Mom decided to press on, but not before exchanging her too-small boots for the light sandals she’s worn for most of the trip.  I put the boots in my pack.

“We’re gonna get rid of those sonsabitches soon,” she said.  “You can put that in the blog.  I should have listened to my little voice when I was still in Colorado, but I didn’t want to spend money on another pair.”

As we left the restaurant, she was still in pain — the ibuprofen had not yet kicked in. “It’s just something different every day,” she said. And then: “Oh, look at those roses in that balcony, so pretty!”

Between the jettison of the boots and the ibuprofen, her pain receded, and she kept a respectable and uncomplaining pace for the next 10km.  It was Marie Anne whose Achilles and other pain kept her far in the back.

The Taciturn Waiter at the Cafe Leon

We stopped for another snack at the Café Leon, in Redecilla del Camino.  It was a very beautifully done up place, inside and out.  The passage to the bathrooms smelled of lilacs, and the bathrooms themselves were spotless and aromatic.  The men’s walls were painted with stripes of glistening white and blue.  One thing I like about Spain is that, if you’re a man and you’re going to the bathroom, you get to call yourself a caballero – literally, a horseman, or cowboy.  Excellent.

Unfortunately, we all felt very badly about our visit to Café Leon.  We appeared to have interrupted the proprietor in the middle of attending his mother’s funeral, or perhaps his own.  As we approached, the only customers in the area, he eyed us without welcome, hola, or smile.  “You can’t bring your backpacks inside,” he said, in Spanish.  I don’t think he ever did make eye contact with anyone in our party, nor with the party of Russians (whom he chastised), the Koreans, or the other customers who came in over time.  He served us entirely without pleasantry or comment.  It was odd.

He stood next to us, and asked Julio where we were from.  He complained to Julio, in Spanish, that tourists to Spain didn’t speak enough Spanish; he himself had once been to Turkey, he said, but had had a bad experience when he couldn’t understand anyone and was never going to leave the country again.  “Typical Castillano,” Julio said, of the man’s evident disdain for all that he did.  Either that or he was depressed.

As we were leaving I noticed that he was wearing blue suede shoes.  Which explained a lot.

We continued on.  The sun beat down, and we marched over the graveled road, parallel to the highway, that has characterized the last 40km or so. And then, after 21 to 23km, we were in Belorado, and the Albergue Santiago beckoned.  It would be our first private albergue, but with a price of 5 Euros, flags of 20 nations colorfully flying outside (not including that of the U.S.), and the promise of a swimming pool, a menu peregrino, a bar, a “mini-market”, washing machines, and a kitchen, it was terribly inviting.

Mom had made it.  Over 20km!

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