Sept. 23- Nájera: 18 miles, seven hours
The Harvest Festival revelers kept us up with their shouting and singing, but we still are up and ready to go.
Today’s path starts out flat through towns and then vineyards. We welcome the cooler temperature in the 60s, no sun and no steep inclines or descents.
Throughout the day the path changes from dirt to rocks to concrete. Trails flow through forests, fields, vineyards, towns and along busy and quiet roadways. The terrain dictates how long the days walk will be.
Nájera was the capital of the Navarre kingdom in the 11th century and its old stone buildings still stand proudly. We arrive at the Hostal Ciudad de Nájera and are greeted so warmly by the father and son owners as if we were family. They carry our backpacks up the stairs to our rooms and present us with a cold bottle of red wine, which we gratefully accept. All this and a bathtub too!
Sept. 24- Santo Domingo de la Calzada: 14 miles, five hours
It’s such a peaceful start to the day when you walk just before sunrise.
The flat path soon gives way to long inclines, then long descents, with lots of loose gravel, but the welcoming smiles and wishes of “Buen Camino!” from the townspeople in each little town we pass through gives us the energy we need to continue.
We thought we had another hour to go and are so surprised and happy to see the town sign that we celebrate with a Coke with lemon. The Hospederia Cisterciense is run by the nuns of the same name and we are impressed by its Old World charm and the simple, clean, crisp feeling of the rooms.
Sept. 25- Belorado: 14 miles, five hours
The nuns are fussing over us at breakfast, making sure we have enough to eat and wishing us “Buen Camino!.”
Most of today’s walk travels right next to the busy N-120 Highway. Cars and trucks are roaring by and the sound is anything but relaxing.
I am feeling less intimidated of the terrain and allow myself to let my mind wander just a bit, without ever losing respect for the Camino. One loose pebble underfoot is a reminder to keep focused.
Belorado is another lovely old town, centered on a plaza and a church. We are so happy when we finally find Pensione Toni. It’s a big room with 4 beds just for us, so we spread out and make ourselves comfortable.
Our feet are throbbing, as if they have a heartbeat and we are concerned. Later, when we join a New Zealander and a New Yorker for cocktails, we are relieved to know that they also have the same problem; blame it on the hard pavement.
Sept. 26- San Juan de Ortega: 15 miles, 5 and one-half hours
Today marks day No. 11; we have already completed one-third of the Camino!
The sunrise makes the fields glow and I have all I can do to stop myself from running through them singing the theme from “The Sound of Music.” Luckily, I resist, since it would have defied the No. 1 Camino rule: don’t take any extra steps that you don’t have to!
The route is flat, until we come upon some very steep inclines and descents, which luckily were very short. We pass Atapuerca, which displays the earliest human remains ever discovered in Europe. Then, we see a sign which says “Oasis Ahead.” Is that salsa music we hear in the distance?
We come across a young woman selling food and cold drinks for a donation and giving out slices of cold melon; so refreshing! Two pilgrims who do not know each other start dancing and everyone is laughing and clapping.
With a population of 18, the small town is centered around a lovely stone church. Our Hotel Rural La Hanera is very comfortable. We sit outside with a view of the church and enjoy some wine, while conversing with a couple from Iceland and a young man from New York. When the owner notices all the hungry pilgrims patiently waiting for the restaurant to open at 7 p.m., he decides to open 15 minutes earlier for us and we are all grateful.