Day 9: Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
The wonder of nature, the power of solitude, the strength of a community of travelers. – Matthew Fox
Today was all about an oasis, an international food cook-off, the miracle of the cock, and Camino fellowship. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to the beginning of the day…
Sleeping in alburgues is the quintessential part of the Camino. However, with the snorers and those that get up to use the bathroom all night long, I have been awake since 3:00 am. Arrgggg! Amazingly the energy on the Camino carries me on. I finally begin to move my body and get up at 7:00 am. Since today’s stage is much shorter, I have the luxury of lounging in bed a bit longer than usual. Funny how 26 kilometers is now considered a short walk!
I joined my California friends, Jamie and Tom, Jeroen from the Netherlands, and Lara from Italy for breakfast. Marilee starts her day early, so we wave goodbye, planning to meet later in the day. On the Camino I go along with no expectations or commitments, saying “so long” to some friends and “hello” to others. I seek to simply enjoy the moments when we are together, and let God determine who crosses my path.
After finishing breakfast, I begin my trek alone, navigating through town by following the prominent yellow arrows and Camino signage. Just out of Najera, I pass a group of pilgrims from Barcelona and Madrid, said hello, “hola” in Spanish, and then continue to enjoy my walk in the solitude through the countryside.
I am so thankful for the pilgrims that watch out and provide for me. Earlier this morning in the alburgue, Jim from Calgary, heard I was struggling, so he shared his supplies with me; a very kind soul. He kitted me up with duct tape to protect my feet. So no I am feeling strong and walking at a fast pace.
I do not know pilgrim’s last names or what they do in their careers or even their past lives. What I do know is their first name, their country, and the status of their knees, ankles, and feet. The present is the only moment that is important on the Camino. I ponder this and realize, this is all I need to know – no judgment or expectations, just people being amongst each other, serving each other and together surviving one of the biggest adventures and challenges they might ever encounter in their lives.
Eventually, Jeroen catches up with me and we enjoy deep conversation together, similar to those one might have with one’s self or with God during this life-changing walk. After we share what we need to say, Jeroen picks up his pace and walks on ahead. Later I spot the shade of some haystacks from the farmer’s recent harvest and take a rest in preparation for the big climb up to the next village.
After hoisting on my pack back, I take a deep breath and begin ascending the hill. A second wind carries me up with no problems. At the top I discover a lovely complex, like an oasis in the middle of the desert, so I decide to do a bit of exploring.
I discover a beautiful golf club with a restaurant, where I find Russ, my Lucky Leprechaun, enjoying his daily cold beer. After cleaning up in the bathroom, I purchase lunch, sign in relief, and soak in the cool air conditioning. A while later Marilee catches up and joins us. I am still not sure how she knew we were inside this complex, but as God would have it, she found us.
We set off together to walk the final six kilometers of the day, and are joined by our new friend, Rene from Germany. As one of the younger pilgrims walking the Camino at 18 years old, Rene hasn’t been accepted into college yet, so with the free time, decided to walk the Camino until he determines his next move in life. He is tall, sweet, and has a bit of that awkward teenage charm. We enjoy his company and outlook on life.
As we walk through the Santo Domingo de la Calzada’s ancient winding streets, we pass our other new friend, Dave from the UK, and together search for our alburgue for the evening. The Casa del Santo is the epitome of all hostels and probably one of my favorites so far. This alburgue provides a full kitchen and wide-open community area, with dining tables and couches, right outside our rooms. Each room contains nine bunk beds. We all settle in our assigned bunks, unpack, and as usual complete our daily post-walking chores.
TIP (Camino Alburgue): In most alburgues, the hospitalaro assigns beds to pilgrims as they enter and register. So, if you plan it right, walk into town or at least the alburgue together, and you will most likely sleep near each other like a family.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a quaint town full of history. Firstly, it is named after Saint Dominic, who dedicated his life improving many of the roads and paths on the Camino. This town is also known for a great legend of the “Miracle of a Cock.”
The legend states, there was once a pilgrim family, a couple and their son, who walked through Santo Domingo and stayed the night. The local inn keeper’s young daughter liked the boy, who did not feel the same towards her. This made her mad, so to take out her anger, she hid a silver goblet in his pack and told everyone he stole it.
The young boy was caught and sentenced to die by hanging. Somehow, his parents found him still alive, believed to be saved by Santo Domingo. His parents then rushed to the local authorities. The sheriff replied, “He is no more alive than the cock I am about to eat.” At that moment, the chicken on his dinner table stood up, and clucked and crowed! Stunned by this miracle, the sheriff rushed to cut the boy down from the rafters and pardoned him.
To continue to honor this miracle and Santo Domingo, chickens run freely in the town’s cathedral even today. Looking out behind our alburgue, I see the coop that houses these chickens. I sure hope they stay quiet in the early morning…
Rene from Germany shares with us that he is craving a home-cooked meal, so we all chipped in a few euros and the guys go shopping in the local supermarket.
TIP (Camino Food): Many pilgrims cook in the alburgue if there is an open kitchen. It is a great way to keep food costs down.
When the guys ask what we are hungry for, all I request is, “Anything but pasta!”‘ (Pasta is served as the starter at almost every pilgrim meal, so I am ready for a change.)
In the alburgue’s kitchen, the guys prepare a wonderful meal of beef and rice, and of course, provide ample beer and wine. Marilee and I enjoy a delicious meal in the company of five generous men from all over the world: Frank from Germany, Russ from Ireland, Rene from Germany, Jim from Calgary, and Dave from UK. As usual, our time together at dinner is filled with great stories and tons of laughter. I lean back and smile as I watch our Camino family continue to grow and strengthen.
After we feel happily full and satisfied, I clear the dishes in time for the next international group to cook in the kitchen. All the hungry pilgrims welcome our leftovers. Earlier in the evening, a group of Koreans prepared a dinner of their local cuisine and flavors. After our dinner, the kitchen hosts an unofficial cooking contest between the Italians and Brazilians. The alburgue continues to be filled with amazing savory aromas, laughter and joy all evening long.
After dinner, I decided to go for a walk and soak up the village’s quaint streets and architecture. The full moon peeks through between the building, broadly smiling and giving me more light during my stroll.
When I returned to the alburgue, everyone congregates in the communal area to chill on the leather sofas and listen to an American play his guitar. Eventually, our friend, Dave from the UK, who is a professional musician, blesses us with his voice and plays on the borrowed guitar. He has been holding out until now, and we knew he had a beautiful gift of music. We feel so blessed that he is sharing his amazing musical voice with us.
It’s late, laundry is washed and I am settling in. The party is going strong outside our room, but I don’t mind. The melding of cultures and languages is mesmerizing and joyous. The culture on the Camino cannot be explained in words, but “spectacular” is pretty darn close. We are our own community, our own family, and I have jumped in with both feet. I believe I belong to something truly special.
I lay in bed reflecting on my Camino journey thus far – I feel changes coming and am happy to have already cleared some things from my mind. The Camino is hard, it’s tough, it’s life-changing, but not once have I regretted being here.
Buenos noches and see your tomorrow!