We begin today in Najera, roughly 18 miles down the road from Logrono where we spent the night. Stages of the Camino just as in the stages of life includes choices. When planning our walk the tour company and leader had to make choices that would allow us to fulfill our journey within the time we have. Camino purist exists who have strong beliefs about what makes a “true” pilgrim. They believe those who transport their backpacks, bus around difficult areas, or skip stages taint, lessen the pilgrim, calling them “tourist” instead of pilgrims. Many Christians operate under the same principle. They place emphasis on the pretense of a “perfect Christian”. It’s not what a pilgrim does to complete the walk that makes them a pilgrim, it’s more about the compassion, kindness, love, and humility learned along the way. In the same way, perfection does not make a Christian. Growing in faith, seeking an intimate relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, is what God desires from Christians.
“And that no one is justified before God by the law is clear, for “the one who is righteous by faith will live.” – Galatians 3:11
The day is sunny and it’s expected to be on the warm side. Going out of Najera we pass the Monasterio de Santa Maria. The monastery is built within man-made caves found in the red cliff mountains, this makes for an interesting climb up the short ascent out of the city. After a short descent, we walk on a wide, flat, dirt road for a quite a while. We have one more steep climb into Ciruena, our checkpoint and lunch stop. One of the guides tells me flat is relative, as a hill is flat going up and flat going down. Whatever! Our views continue to include the ever relaxing harvested fields and sunflowers. Today a new crop, sugar beets, are in abundance.
Entering Azofra I’m not far behind the pack. I find the fellow pilgrim peeps enjoying café con leche in the square. Another group of pilgrims walking with their dogs are enjoying the water fountain behind the tables. I take a second to sit and chat with the peeps, I don’t stay too long, as my body starts to stiffen as I sit. Before heading out, as always, I visit the toilet and get a stamp in my credential. These two things are some of the most important steps a pilgrim takes throughout the day. The stamp proves you are walking and the toilets can be far and few between.
I lose my advantage over the group when I take the wrong direction at a fork in the road. My gut tells me no, no, no, but it takes me about a fourth of a mile before I listen and turn back. The guide who is walking with the group approaches the fork at the same time as I am returning to it. He wants to know what I think I’m up to, LOL. I tell him I might have been lost for a short minute. He informs me a pilgrim is never lost, maybe on the wrong path, but never lost. Such a wise statement to remember.
As the steep climb into Ciruena plateaus, I see the bus. I become exhilarated, I am tired and hungry and it is a welcome sight. One of the Camino guidebooks call this city a ghost town, another calls it a town without a soul, interesting. Even though I am the last to arrive I’m not far behind two other group members. The bus driver has a picked up a special treat to go with our bocadillos, Gazpacho! It is a delicious, invigorating surprise and greatly appreciated. I may or may not have guzzled three or four glasses of it. The lunch spot is next to a golf course, the two peeps with me are avid golfers and decide to check it out, I tag along to use the toilet and have my credentials stamped. Just before we reach the entrance one of the peeps phone shouts in a robotic voice “do you really think you have time for 18 holes?” We all bust out laughing seems the peeps sister monitors the walk on a phone app and just happened to notice that we are walking up to the golf course and sent her that message. While they linger in the golf shop I take care of business and head on through the town. I pass many modern apartment buildings void of life, I am beginning to understand the ghost town reference. The parking lots are empty, windows are covered, it is obvious no one has ever lived in them. In the middle of the empty housing area is a community pool with a few people enjoying the water. As inviting as it looks I know my job is to keep walking.
It is hot, the path has no shade and seems to go on forever. Ahead of me is the group with the dogs, they have stopped to give the dogs a drink. My lunchmates pass me, they check to make sure I am doing okay. I pass a gentleman who is struggling, he walked over 20 miles yesterday and today, clearly, it has taken a toll on him. I offer him a bottle of water and chat for a while. This is his second day walking, he started where he ended last year and admits he may have been overly ambitious with his plan for the first few days. I am relieved to know his plans are to overnight in Santo Domingo which is not too much further down the road.
Our group is booked in the beautiful Parador de Santo Domingo. During the 12th century, the building was a hostel for pilgrims, built by Saint Dominic. A Parador is a luxury hotel, that is owned and ran by the Spanish Government. Generally, they are restored historical buildings. Our rooms are not ready when we arrive, what is a pilgrim to do but enjoy sangria and chips on the patio and wait.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada has many interesting historic sites, Saint Dominic also built a church which now is the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. Read the about legend of Saint Domingo and the rooster who sang after being roasted here.
Sometimes a pilgrim has a short amount of time to take care of necessity such as laundry, go through the museum of Santo Domingo and climb a bell tower. Those with great determination and plenty of energy can accomplish those task and still make it to Mass on time. I, lacking in both at the end of the day, can sit back, watch it happen then relish with them in their accomplishment and joy.
It was another great day on the Camino.
Tomorrow will be a short stage to allow us time to discover Burgos