Day #8 El Camino
Wednesday 20th September
Logroño > Najera
Distance Walked: 30km give or take. I don’t know, it was hot.
Well let me just start with last night’s minor debarcle. I was headed out the door to explore Logroño when I finished up yesterday’s post and as luck would have it, there was a week long fiesta happening. Celebrating what? I don’t know. Perhaps the town itself but I think a vineyard or many were sponsoring it. There were several stages set up around the city centre and I managed to get my hands on a schedule for live music, none of which I knew, although there was a notable name performing the next day who I considered extending my stay to watch, until I saw the typo or perhaps actual real spelling of his name, Faul McCartney. Maybe he was a part of the Pab Pour? I checked out the anticipated Calle Laurel where the festivities were due to happen and it was relatively calm, although it seemed there was remnants of an earlier party or a sign that things would be picking up soon enough. Locals were draped in varied coloured bandanas with the Logroño crest and some wine brands. I wanted one. I just didn’t know where they came from. Probably free with any cheap bottle of wine purchased like getting a straw cowboy hat with a box of Corona. After a few Pinchos, a beer and Espresso the heat and length of today’s walk got the better of us and we retreated to the Albergue. Upon checking in earlier today, I made a comment to my Swedish friends that if you don’t ask questions on check-in, you can play dumb and have leverage when it comes to playing the “oh I’m sorry I’m a dumb gringo I didn’t know” card when it comes to pretty much anything you do out of order. We were pretty sure that 10pm was when the lights go off but as every town has so far been uneventful, we’ve never been out beyond 9pm anyway. Today however was a party! And my playing dumb was soon to backfire. The second time the Swedes and I took to the streets the fiesta was picking up, not yet in full swing but getting busier and so we hit a few bars for Pinchos and cervezas. Pinchos are what they call Tapas in this area and cervezas are what they call beers in Spanish. Come on, keep up! There was also a concert happening in one of the squares, one of those tacky yet somehow enjoyable affairs put on by the local council no doubt, and the whole community seemed to be out for it. There was a mix of Cumbria and other Latin dance music, fit for a cheesy wedding, it had all the oldies up dancing and we were jiving along with it. It’s fun to hear Spanish versions of classic Elvis and Neil Diamond songs and you can play a game of guessing what song it is then impress the locals by knowing the words. The average age group was 70+ as well as children running about. But all ages seemed to be about and enjoying the night. No binge drinking, no fights, just happy people. Groups of pensioner women were holding hands in circles dancing while their husbands held the handbags. The sense of community and genuine joy and love in the air was really sweet, this was also the first night in the whole week that I felt like staying out late and celebrating with my fellow pilgrims and the locals. Unfortunately, being a pilgrim and staying in Albergues, we have different rules. Our accommodation is cheaper because it’s set up for those doing the Camino. We go to bed early and rise VERY early. Most people are awake by 6am, others 4 or 5am to beat the heat or the crowds and you MUST be gone by 8am. With such early starts, it means most are in bed very early also and the lights tend to be off by 9pm. Now when I read that there were 10pm curfews I thought this simply meant lights off and if you wanted to stumble in or use a head-torch to quietly come in later then that was up to you. I didn’t know that they literally have a curfew and lock the doors. I wanted to stay out and enjoy the fiesta a little more last night so I ducked back in to Calle Laurel for one last drink and ran into some Pilgrims. We chatted and the minutes counted down to 10pm. Some of them were in private hotels, others were in hostals with no curfew. Do you realise how childish it feels to be with a group of other grown-ups and say you have to leave because its bedtime!? I had to make the decision to end my night abruptly and push my way through the crowds to my Albergue. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have parents telling you to get to bed when you’re on the opposite side of the world from your actual parents! I dashed through the packed streets and got to my accommodation at 10.03pm. The gates were locked and the lights were off, but I was able to connect to the Wi-Fi and reach an inmate who rattled their cup against the bars and woke a warden. I was in luck and so were the two drunk Koreans who rolled up a few minutes later as they were in the same boat. We got in and found our beds we’d paid for, but there was a moment where I really didn’t know if I was going to be allowed inside. They’re strict and I’m going to have to plan ahead for when I want a night out. I won’t be staying at these places in the bigger cities on rest days that’s for sure!
Even after getting into the Albergue, I didn’t have much luck getting sleep, I’m not sure what is wrong but I’m waking up every hour or so, there was lots of street noise from partying but apart from that I think I was laying awake more than I was asleep. I might’ve been better off staying locked out.
Back to today, I was given some eggs at breakfast by two Croatians and then returned the favour by giving them a phone they’d left behind. iPhone for a couple of boiled eggs. Sounds like a fair deal! After that I witnessed the last pilgrims being rushed out the door before the 8am check-out and then flew solo for the day. Apart from the standard greetings as we pass each other, I stayed alone for most part of the day and it was wonderful. It was the hottest day of the 8 days so far and with about 30km to walk I took my time and even took a detour to some kind of art path that turned out to be just a trap leading me to a small village with no art. I did find a nice café though and downed an espresso in the sunshine while airing out my shoes. There was a lot of wineries and a fair balance of walking besides highways too. The highways were obviously boring and annoying, hence my excitement to take a detour even though it added more kms. There was a church in some town that had an amazing interior supposedly but I didn’t go in. I’ll share my religious rant another time. The town I aimed for today was Najera. As I came into town I found a municipal Albergue that was Donativo. This is a donation based accommodation. The staff were amazing and over friendly and upon arrival, perhaps a little too much as they chatted endlessly to each and every person checking in who just wanted to drop their bags and take a shower. They had iced water, chocolate and fruit waiting for us. The beds were side by side in a room for 90 people, the largest single group of people I’ve slept with since Burning Man (I jest). I couldn’t be bothered dealing with showers right away so I headed for the river to soak my feet and knocked out 25 pages in my Michael Palin book about the Himalayas. Yes, a fitting book to read on the Camino of course! Finding time to read on this walk is hard so I was happy to get some alone time and just detox in the sun lying on the grass by the river. I cooked myself some dinner and shared some wine with some others and met some new folks from Italy, Sweden, Germany and other parts. At 10pm I was in bed with everyone else and it felt just like a school camp. Although this time I wasn’t giggling and making fart noises or looking at a Playboy magazine one of my friends had pinched from an older sibling. I was passed out within minutes, earplugs in and content with my long day walking.