The Route we Walked

The Route we Walked

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 10 Azofra - Granon - 21kms

Distance walked 21km, Perfect hiking weather - cool temperatures and clear sky with sunshine.

“ Well after tossing up continuing with the Camino in Najera and being a bit here nor there about it, feeling disillusioned by our experience, today the camino showed what it can offer a pilgrim.

We slept comfortably in our prison cell and started our day with a typical Aussie breakfast - vegemite on toast. We managed a quick departure from the albergue by avoiding the warmth of the common room and today we were not the last to leave the albergue - finally.

The morning breeze was fresh  and we figured the temperature was about 5 degrees but the wide open sky was a vivid blue and there was plenty of morning sunshine reflecting off the fields of wheat which moved like waves on the ocean.

As we walked along the path - stopping frequently for people to take photos of Aurelia - I felt a sensation. The kind of sensation that had me debating whether I was going to vomit or have shocking diarrhoea. In panic I surveyed the surrounding fields of wheat - without a tree in sight - and realised that if my body decided I didn’t need to vomit, then I would be dropping my pants in front of every pilgrim who walked past. Wonder if they would be wanting to take a photograph of that!!

After continuing to walk along with a few false alarms it dawned on Nick that my misbehaving stomach was due to the antibiotics I had taken for the mastitis on an empty stomach. Nick forced me to eat avocado on a baguette and the nausea eased - thankfully. Nonetheless it is a looong way between toilet breaks on the camino unless you are up for a wilderness wee, or worse.

Our feet continued along the trail and we wondered how much further we would walk before we reached this incline that looked intimidating on the map. Onwards and slightly upwards - this was a short but steep incline - we continued, the ground crunching beneath our feet.

The quietness of the camino and the silence of the landscape can be overwhelming at times, so different from the urban landscapes we travelled from. The silence is so thick that is has a real tangible presence and this morning we could feel it.

Aurelia had drifted back off to sleep again once she had claimed her share of the avocado baguette - it is impossible to eat a meal without sharing some with our toddler daughter - and Nick and I walked on.

As we almost reached the top of the incline - favouring the slow and steady continuous pace rather than several short breaks other pilgrims were taking - we were overtaken by two Spanish pilgrims. Once Aurelia falls asleep lulled by the rhythm of our walking pace, stopping wakes her up so we try to make good time to allow her wake time to be play time. There was also a fear, which we joked about, that if we stopped on an incline the weight of our packs would topple us over backwards sending us rolling like snowballs back down the incline from which we had just struggled up.

Bloody hell” Nick said and gestured with his head in the direction of the Spanish pilgrim who had just steamed past us in full conversation. Not only was he able to carry on a conversation - a humorous one at that - but he was also smoking a cigarette as he walked and his pack looked heavy.

Okay so we know the camino isn’t about winning - but really, secretly, who doesn’t like to win? Personally, maybe a teeny tiny bit I like to win, okay fine I admit it, I love to win and, if forced to be honest the pilgrimage brings forth in the individual a degree of humility more painful than blisters. Was it not bad enough we were having our backsides kicked each day by people in their sixties and seventies, the “fit as” germans and now chain smokers - give us a break.

Reaching the top of the incline the land stretched onwards as far as the eye could see and, it was all dead flat. This meant one of two things:

1.We had not walked as far as we hoped and not only that we had a LOT longer to walk than expected before we encountered this incline or(and unlikely)
2.We had walked up what looked like a monstrous incline on the map without realising.

Personally I believe ignorance is bliss but Nick practically argued for us to consult the map. If we hadn’t walked as far as we thought then we would need to factor in extra breaks. Damn
straight - there is only so far a person can be expected to walk in the morning before a café con leche!!

Crossing my fingers and blistered toes in hope and throwing a prayer up to God we saw the Rialto Golf Club sign ahead of us to the left of the camino trail. Hallelujiah - the Lord had answered my prayer with a golf course.

The golf course was past the steep incline which meant that we had just kicked arse on the incline we had been dreading (even more respect for the chain smoking Spaniard now). It had been difficult but nowhere near what we had been anticipating. Finally, with a sense of cautious optimism, we dared to think that we’re adapting to the Camino - and our feet were getting more Tonka.

As we walked past the golf club which looked alien in the surrounding landscape we praised ourselves on our surprisingly good pace.

So what else to do when you are feeling in chipper spirits on the camino - but to play a game of Top 5. I am sure every family has a game they play in the car - whether it be “eye spy” or “celebrity head”. “Top 5” was our family game and I know Nick has a real fondness of the game, despite his eye rolls at my suggestion.

The game is quite easy. One person selects a category and then each person has to think of their personal top 5 for that category - which often results in heated debate to reach the overall Top 5.

Today I chose “Top 5 desserts you want to see at the end of a pilgrim meal” as the topic for conversation. We knew the top 5 desserts we didn’t want to see at the end of a pilgrim meal and the number 1 dessert was dry as a bone “Santiago cake” that we had been served at the conclusion of nearly every meal for the last week.

With thoughts of gelato, apple strudel, tiramisu and lemon meringue floating through our minds we walked past giant hay bales till we glimpsed the city of Santa Domingo in the distance. We looked at our watches and saw that it had only just passed 11.30am - and we were soon to reach our destination for the day. We gave each other a very bogan but nonetheless jubilant high 5.

Having reached a consensus that baked cheesecake was THE dessert we would most like to see at the conclusion of a € 9 pilgrim meal we fell into step beside a german guy.

And so the process of making camino small chat began, falling into the usual pattern of “how many days have you been walking?”, “where did you start?” and “where are you from?”. Oddly enough “what is your name?” is rarely one of the questions asked.

The pilgrim, who didn’t have a german accent told us “I know Sydney” to which we patronisingly gave a polite nod. By day 10 on the camino we had heard all the kangaroo, koala jokes and people had told us how great Melbourne was with “that Harbour Bridge”.

“Yeah I live in the Gong”. “The Gong” is the locals nickname for Wollongong, 1hr or so from our house in outer Sydney. He told us he had been living there for the last 22 years having followed love to Australia originally. What a small world! He was happy to see us travelling as a family and told us how him and his wife had thrown caution to the wind when their daughter was Aurelia’s age by travelling around Australia in a caravan for 6 months. He believed, like we do, that while they are too little to remember the experience, travel shapes them as individuals and that travel as a family is a wonderful experience. How great to meet a kindred spirit.

We walked alongside each other for a while before he told us our pace was too quick for him, we had never heard that before, and he dropped behind to wait for his friends.

We arrived in Santa Domingo just after 12 noon to discover the albergue here opened at 12 - and the people we had seen hike past us - Kate and Emma from Adelaide - were already standing in the queue.

Why race through the walking experience only to stop walking by 12? This was a huge albergue with plenty of beds, the walking conditions were glorious tody and if we had made it by noon, then they must have barely broken a sweat.

The weather really had been glorious. Normally I put my jacket on first over my ice breaker red or blue shirt and then put the carrier on. Ray always falls asleep quickly once we start walking and then by the outskirt of the first town we are sweltering and down to a t-shirt already. A familiar but unavoidable pattern as the mornings are still to cold to just start off in a t-shirt. Today I had walked the entire way to Santa Domingo in my gortex jacket - unheard of!

Looking at the ridiculously long line and knowing there was a second albergue in town which didn’t open until 2pm we left our friends behind in search of that café con leche. We didn’t want to be a part of the albergue race.

The entrance to the town via the ugly industrial region was quickly forgotten by the delightful feel and wonderful architecture of the old town of the city. For every monstruous modern Spanish structure there remained a classic piece of Spanish architecture to charm and welcome the pilgrim traveller. The only modern infrastructure which took our fancy were the processional pedestrian traffic lights that controlled the flow of people through the narrow cobblestoned streets.

Turning left off the main square - you quickly learn the main square tends to be over priced with brusque service - we found a quaint chocolaterie where they had a window full of marzipan creatures, croissants and other delectable creations. Sitting on the counter our prize for the mornings efforts - baked cheesecake!!!! We had only just played ‘Top 5 desserts you would like to see at the end of a pilgrim meal’. We took it as a sign from the camino.

This place was fantastic. True it had been a long walk for a morning caffeine hit but doesn’t everyone love coffee and baked cheesecake for breakfast?

As we sat enjoying the caffeine hit and I redressed my blisters we heard music from outside. The lovely lady who ran the shop scooped Aurelia up in her arms and walked outside so Aurelia could see the procession for the patron saint of the town. Aurelia loved the bands and happily clapped along in the strangers arms.

As we were finishing up one of the Korean girls walked into the coffee shop - this was so weird - we never normally beat anyone into town. We asked her if she was walking on and she said yes - to Grannon.

My feet, courtesy of caffeine and Iboprufen didn’t feel too appalling and we started to toy with the idea of walking on. The weather was perfect for walking and we had made such good time already. Even if we walked really slowly we still had hours to cover the 6kms to Grannon.

We also took into consideration that we generally hadn’t enjoyed the stays in the larger albergues - they really felt like prisons. We decided to continue the walk onto Grannon. At the pace we had been walking we calculated it would only take us about 90mins.

We were loving walking along alone. Most people had stopped at Santa Domingo and the path was clear in front of us. Occasionally a cyclist would pass us on the roadway but this was the first day that we were actually really enjoying being out walking - perhaps we were finding our walking legs after all. Unlike travelling in a car where you simply move through the landscape, hiking we felt like we were part of the landscape and more of our senses were involved in the experience.

As we walked on the sun really came out and with a Chernobyl narrowly avoided we began the walk up the hill into Grannon. Passing some dodgy Spanish buildings and Aurelia’s first donkey we saw the town of Grannon on top of the next hill.
The walk up into town was horrendous - up hill, in the heat but through the foulest smell you can imagine. All the animals are farmed indoors in Spain, they aren’t put out to pasture. So we were walking down wind from these sheds for most of the way coupled with the fact that the sewerage drains were all being repaired in the midday heat. I’m having nasty smell flash backs just typing this.

We arrived in the town right on schedule. The small town seemed deserted and as we started to take a look around we saw the bright yellow gortex jacket of Aurelia’s ‘camino poppy”. He was delighted to see us and led us back to the albergue - where there were no beds - just thin bed rolls on the floor.

Still this albergue was heaven and it was at this albergue that I really learnt the value of hospitality for the first time.

The albergue was a gorgeous building attached to the church and was a paroquial albergue connected to the order of Fransiscan monks, not the municipal albergues we had been staying in previously. Far from the sneering reception at Najera the welcome here was warm as the volunteers rushed to take your packs from you and make you feel comfortable.

Rather than insisting on payment before entering the albergue this place had a small box on the side table which read “give what you can, take what you need”. Once you had your sleeping area set up and had gone for a shower the volunteers encouraged people to come back to the common area to relax together and to have a lunch which they had cooked. To not have to race out to a super Mercado to buy food was unheard of. The food was simple but filling and so welcomed by the weary pilgrims.

After being able to relax and soak my feet in salt water, and having Aurelia supervised by her “camino poppy” who gave her a beautiful Korean bookmark as a present,
Can you tell she loved getting a present!!!
it was time for a communal effort to cook dinner.

Camino Poppy took over baby sitting duty while mummy and daddy chopped and peeled vegetables close by. She still has the drawing they did together in this picture.

While people peeled vegetables around the large wooden table, some pilgrims who had been assigned to clean up duties sat near the fireplace playing classical guitar music. Other pilgrims who were coping well massaged the feet of pilgrims who were struggling.

This was what we thought the pilgrim camino experience would be like. We had begun to realise that a lot of people walk the camino searching for answers to different questions but this searching, introspective nature, together with the language barriers, prevents little more than superficial conversations. The homely environment that the hospitalero had created at this albergue together with the comfortable furnishings were encouraging people to open up their travel companions.

At 8pm all the pilgrims crammed into the common dining room and sat around tressle tables. The one condition of staying in the albergue was that everyone eats together and while 8pm was a late eating time when most pilgrims were normally in bed by 8.30-9pm the communal eating experience made us all feel like family. Determined to be part of the family Aurelia refused to go down to sleep at her bedtime and so joined everyone for dinner, sitting at the head of the table of course. No one can call our littlest pilgrim shy!

The meal was a delicious vegetable soup and a lentil and meat stew served with free wine. It was accompanied by laughing and singing as pilgrims took turns to play the piano and guitar. Aurelia, taking after her nanny, played the spoons on the table in time with the music.

In this relaxed atmosphere we got to know two lovely women who were sleeping opposite us and were both from Denmark - one a school teacher and the other an early childhood teacher. They had many questions about our experience of walking with a young child and were interested in our family travel plans. We also sat next to two lovely german women at dinner. They only had 3 weeks of walking and would be leaving to go back to Germany from Belorado. We were sad to be making friends with people we wouldn’t be able to walk with all the way to Santiago.

Once the meal was over we all retired to the sleeping areas, everyone talking about what a wonderful night we had shared and how lucky we had been to walk on to discover this tiny albergue in Grannon. Part of the camino process is accepting that people you meet will want to share their parenting expertise with you. The French couple sleeping on the floor next to us were horrified that we were kissing Aurelia, then putting her in the Kinderkot to put herself to sleep. They started singing to her and when we asked them not too, as Aurelia would only want to keep talking to them, they grumbled to themselves. Once they saw Aureli fall deeply asleep quickly they accepted that we weren’t cruel parents.

Ives enforced a strict “no waking before 7.30am rule” (which of course some people broke) explaining that rest and meditation was an equally important part of the camino. Too true we thought and most pilgrims were thankful for an excuse for sleeping in.

I felt bad for Emma and Kate back in the huge albergue in Santa Domingo who would miss out on this connecting experience.

The warm, hospitable atmosphere of the albergue and the moving experience us pilgrims had shared together was all credit to the hospitalero Ives.

Over the breakfast he provided for everyone in the morning we casually chatted with him, curious to find out what had led him to the Camino. He shared with us that he was French and had previously worked as an oil driller in South Africa and Norway. He had read Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage”, the same book Nick had read, and 2 days later decide he too wanted to walk the pilgrimage across Spain. Gathering his gear together quickly he set off on the pilgrimage the next day.

Once he finished the camino experience he returned back to France and retired from work. He made life decisions such as living more simply which now allow him to walk the camino each year after his annual 15 day voluntary hospitalero stay. He also belongs to a mountaineering group and takes people over the Alps walking each year. Each volunteer stint was done in a different albergue which he acknowledged was always further away each year from Santiago - never getting closer to the end of the pilgrimage.

When we left rather than shooing us out the door he hugged us and told us to try to walk past the next main town of Belorado and head to Tosantos - a further 6kms. He explained here that we would find a tiny albergue but another paroquial albergue which was run in the same spirit.

This was all we needed to hear to be convinced to try that extra bit harder to reach Tosantos.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 9 Najera - Azofra 8kms

It was 12 noon before we checked out of our hotel room and didn’t we savour the opportunity to sleep in - there were no 5.3am alarms for us today

I was not feeling as well as I would have hoped but the tenderness was relieved enough that I could carry Aurelia for a short distance and so we aimed for Azofra 8kms away. It doesn’t take long for the mind to adjust to walking kilometres so that 8 kilometres seems like a short stroll.  Show how far we have come since the first day and the sheer overwhelming panic felt in a field when the enormity of the task overtakes you.

Once checked out we stepped out of the hotel to a cold blustery wind and rain. This was the first time we would have to use the gortex jackets in rainy weather. We popped Aurelia into her rain jacket but the rain eased off to not much more than a drizzle by the time we had crossed the river. This was lucky for us as Aurelia was warming up to the game “You put it on, I’ll pull it off”. She was a champion of the version of this game involving a beanie she WOULD NOT keep on in London and the result had been her picking up a cold. It is a slow 8kms when you have to keep stopping to pull her hood back over her head.

We left Najera by climbing a short but steep hill which gave our trekking poles a good work out. “Welcome back” the camino seemed to say to us!

Used to a blazing heat each day I had left the hotel with wet hair but combined with the icy wind my ears were screaming at me. Desperate to stop them aching I resorted to wearing Nick’s beanie which was not the most glamorous look I have ever modelled.

It took a little while for us to find our rhythm again today thrown by the initial steep incline. Luckily the remainder of the walk into Azofra was through irrigated farm lands and the remaining kilometres were completed quickly with the town upon us before we realised.
Having reached the town unexpectedly fast - despite me feeling under the weather we had set the fastest pace of all our days of walking - we sat down in the town square. I was convinced that we had made such good time due to the late start - proof sleeping in is good for your constitution.

Nick and I debated walking on to the next town but we came to the conclusion that rejoining the camino today had required us to overcome enough hurdles without adding another 10km. We tried to remember the lesson the camino had taught us earlier on about pacing ourselves. Also the skies were looking ominous and as we sat in the town square trying to reach a decision several pilgrims stomped past us in ponchos completely saturated.

This cemented our decision, the storm was obviously coming this way, and so we decided to head towards the one albergue in town. If only we had made the decision 2 minutes earlier - or crash tackled some of those wet and weary pilgrims. Upon arriving at the “club med” of albergues, as some pilgrims had described it in the visitor book, we discovered that those last few pilgrims had claimed the last of the private rooms.

As per usual Aurelia was a hit with other pilgrims from the moment we arrived. Waiting to have our credentials stamped my head turned to the sound of two aussie accents - how quickly and instinctively the brain seeks out what is familiar and the same -asking “is that an Aussie accent” We introduced ourselves and discovered the two Aussie girls, Emma and Kate, were from Adelaide. Seems us Aussies were slowly taking over the camino. They were planning to couch surf their way around Spain and Portugal for 5 weeks following the camino and then like us Emma was planning to relocate to the UK.

Just as we moved forward to tell our starting point to the volunteer at the desk, a loud voice bellows “Feck” at the vending machine next to me. I almost had a heart attack I was that startled by the Scottish pilgrim. “This coffee is shite” he said before introducing himself and telling us he had had a gutful of the camino already.

This entire albergue was full of rooms which slept only two people - except for the rooms we were given. Being shown out of the albergue and down a small dirt road the lady directed us into a cement rendered very ’non club med esque’ building. How we longed for a hot summers day now, as stepping into the building, the wind whistled along the corridor and the temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler. The white cement walls and starkness of the interior made me think of a solitary confinement cell in prison. Shivering we entered our room to discover we were sharing it with three Korean missionary students who were walking the Camino as part of a large group.

They were thrilled to see Aurelia and she set about immediately charming them. One of the girls had lived in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, for 6 months and they all told us that Australia was their favourite country. Aurelia had found herself 3 Korean playmates.

We set about setting up Aurelia’s cot and making small talk with the Korean pilgrims who were fascinated by our decision to walk the camino as a family. Suddenly the door burst open and “How do you like ya prison cell” boomed off the concrete walls of our room as the Scottish pilgrim stuck his head in the door wearing a huge grin. One of the poor Korean girls almost jumped out of her skin. Grinning madly he told us about the night he spent in a prison cell in Spain 25 years ago for being drunk and that his cell had been better than this room - and we believed him.

Shivering in our room, we made the decision to head to the warmth of the common area and begin organising dinner. Here we heard more Aussie accents and spent time getting to know Chris and Jo - a brother and sister from NSW who were walking the camino together. The conversation with Chris was particularly interesting as this was his second time walking the camino and his reflections regarding his experience of walking alone the first time and now with company were very interesting. Chris and Jo were both doing blogs while they walked the camino - good on them for having the energy and they can be found at ChrisonCamino.blogspot and Jo on the Camino.blogspot.

While Nick fought for space in the kitchen from the French, other pilgrims fought amongst themselves to entertain Aurelia. One man in particular entertained her for ages on the floor allowing her to climb all over him while he read her a In the Night Garden book. With a 3 month old grand daughter at home - he repeatedly told us ‘I love your child’ and his affection was returned. Aurelia made herself right at home with “her camino poppy” and emptied out his entire wallet before bum shuffling away straight for the door with his Euros in her hand - making us all laugh.

Aurelia also charmed a Korean lady who was celebrating her 40th birthday that day. Aurelia was fascinated by the koala bear keyring this pilgrim had on her camera strap and despite our refusing the Korean lady insisted Aurelia keep it, bringing her collection of keyring gifts for the carrier to 3.

Sitting on long wooden communal tables at dinner the Koreans, seated to the right of us, all stood to sing Happy Birthday to the 40 year old woman. The other pilgrims all fell silent. Once the Koreans were finished singing Happy Birthday a group of Danish women jumped up and in danish began singing Happy Birthday to the Korean pilgrim. The entire room was now laughing and clapping along and the Korean lady was horribly embarrassed. This was the sense of comraderie I was hoping we would find on the camino. One lady from the Danish group ran over to hug the Korean pilgrim announcing “it’s my birthday today as well”.

Well this prompted the german pilgrims to jump up and another rendition of Happy Birthday was sung -this time in German. Finally, not to be outdone, the French pulled themselves away from their gourmet fondue meal and gave a fantastic French version of Happy Birthday. Aurelia squealed and clapped her hands along with the singing. When the French sat down Chris and I sneakily looked at each other and without speaking unanimously decided there didn’t need to be an English version of Happy Birthday sung. Spoil sports we are.

The communal singing seemed to remove a tension that had been existing in the room as people began to open up and speak to others next to them and across the table. On reflection this was the first night where we sensed a positive change in the experience of our camino. It seemed that a lot of people were still ‘finding their walking legs’. This sense of disillusionment that many pilgrims, including ourselves, had with the camino up until this point was making people internalise their emotions and experiences with people really keeping to themselves. I suspect that no one wanted to let on to a complete stranger that they were struggling.

Still once the conversations began to flow it was clear that while some may have blisters, some tendonitis and some homesickness - everyone was being challenged and having to learn new lessons in a way they hadn’t anticipated.

Walking back to our rooms with an uplifted spirit I hoped that some of these people would be keeping a slow pace and we would be able to have another night with these pilgrims at an albergue down the path. The first time you meet a pilgrim it is polite small talk, the second time you are more friendly and the third time you feel as if you have made a friend for life - the intensity of the experience creating strong bonds. With walking so slowly we had only ever reached the polite small talk stage with others.

Brushing my teeth before going to bed that night I got chatting to another lady in the bathroom. She had a lot of questions about travelling the road to Santiago with a child. At the end of our conversation she revealed that she was 5 months pregnant with a little boy. She was carrying her own pack and they were walking 15-20kms every day.

I smiled, shaking my head in disbelief. All I could do while I had been pregnant with our littlest pilgrim had been lay on the couch with extreme morning sickness. I couldn’t have dreamt of walking the camino whilst pregnant - pregnancy is exhausting. I said “congratulations” and then without thinking the words “gee you’re brave” slipped straight out of my mouth!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rest day in Najera – Distance walked 0km

13th May

3 star hotel
Weather - I wouldn’t know as I didn’t leave our room the entire day.
“ I feel like I have been run over by a truck. Swollen glands, sore feet and now mastitis. Give us a break.

There was no way we were walking today and I demanded we check in to the hotel - I barely made it the 300m to the hotel with my pack on. As we were leaving the albergue I saw two other pilgrims in the albergue who were sick. One lady was taking a bus to a monastery further along the camino that was known for looking after pilgrims.

The other woman, and her partner, were having a heated conversation with the volunteer. She was obviously unwell and I doubted whether she would be able to get to the dr’s. Her partner was asking whether a dr could come to the alberque to see her. The volunteer was telling them to get out with all their stuff, go and see a dr and come back when they had a letter to prove to him they were sick. Then he would let them stay an extra night.
In my mind albergues are no place to be when you don’t feel well.

Having a bath in the hotel room was a luxury as I spent the whole day sweating, shaking, moaning, and combining paracetamol, antibiotics, frequent breastfeeds and warm baths to manage the symptoms.

The day in bed meant my feet could be elevated all day which did them the world of good. Nick had been struggling with his knee so a day without the pack was a welcome relief. Poor Raya had diarrhoea we suspect from the milk on her cereal that morning and so the timing of the rest day ended up suiting everybody.

Aside from feeling unwell we welcomed the rest day as we are starting to feel like a spectacle now on the camino with Aurelia. We acknowledge that it is only natural with her being so little, and utterly gorgeous, that people would talk about her and us but being the ‘talk of the town’ is beginning to grate on our nerves.

People will sit at the same communal meal table as us in the albergue speaking in their own language about us only addressing us in English to ask a question. One pilgrim then said “see I told you I was right” when we answered his question and they continued talking in German. The people who get their camera out and take photos of Aurelia in front of us without even asking irritate us the most.

Everyone says “gee you’re brave” (in fact we’ve heard this so much this is what our daily travel blog is called) and tell us what an inspiration we are - but we don’t feel that way. We are finding the going really tough and we just want to be able to walk the camino without all the attention and fuss we feel like we are receiving at every turn. We certainly appreciate the friendly reception Aurelia receives but there are cultural differences in how people interact with children and having to negotiate these each and every day while still being polite and friendly is taking a toll. When you are tired, hot and don’t feel well or when Aurelia is tired/hot and doesn’t want her cheeks squeezed anymore we would happily hand back the newly acquired “legend status”.

That night Nick watched the Bilbao vs. Barcelona grand final soccer game on TV, with Barcelona winning 4-1. He, who has never followed soccer, now proudly claims Barcelona as “his team”.

The pillows on the bed in Spain are unusual, one long common pillow on a double bed, and I don’t like it. Raya is snoring softly in her Kindakot on top of a pile of plush blankets.

Tomorrow we are going to see how I feel but most likely we will check out late and keep walking. After a teary conversation about the viability of fulfilling our dream of walking the camino, we both feel that if we stay off the trail for longer than 1-2 days we will feel too comfortable in the hotel and not return to the camino. Wanting to stay in the hotel and needing to stay in the hotel are two different things and so we agree to be adults and “suck it up” and only stay if we really need to - not just because we are finding it harder than we would like.

I plan to enjoy one last long soak in the bath in the morning before we head off again and I am thankful I am not having to put up with any full frontal stranger nudity in the bathroom - coping with my one-sided pilgrim tanned, blistered, mastitis’ed body in the mirror is confronting enough.

Perhaps I should have packed less undies after all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 7 Navarette - Najera – Distance walked 14km


Weather - back to the singlet and shorts heat we had come to know and hate

A week on the Camino today. In some ways we feel like the time had passed slowly while at the same time we feel like we have only left Pamplona yesterday. Before beginning the Camino we had read that it takes on average 14 days to find your walking legs. Fourteen days until you have found your natural rhythm and the walking becomes effortless and enjoyable leaving the mind free from focusing on the physical discomfort of the earlier days. People describe missing the walking and feeling ‘restless’ in the albergues wanting to keep going each day. 

We look forward to the days we don’t reach the albergues and fall into an exhausted heap.

After a shocking night sleep, courtesy of some inconsiderate Spanish roommates making one hell of a racket, people around us have been slow to get going this morning and yet we are still the last pilgrims to leave - with the exception of our 71 year old pilgrim friend Ardt.

It surprises me how some people can be so inconsiderate of other travellers, how oblivious of how their actions impact on others. Whether it be emptying their packs and spreading their equipment all over the place, having overly long showers and using all the hot water or talking at the top of their voices well past lights out aka the Spanish pilgrims. My personal favourite is the pilgrim who reads the sign on the albergue door “no waking before 7am allowed” and yet still sets their blaring alarm for 5.30am. Even more popular in the dorms is the pilgrim who sets their alarm for 5am or 5.30 am at maximum volume and then sleeps straight through it leaving the pilgrims sleeping near him to search desperately for the alarm in the dark dorm room hoping they can smash it. Luckily I brought ear plugs and Aurelia continues to sleep through everything.

Where we had THE best pilgrim meal of the camino - the albergue was through that archway.

As we head out of town, right on the border we strip off our jackets and beanies. The air is still fresh but we know we will overheat quickly and I need to remove my jacket before Raya goes back to sleep for her morning nap in the carrier - otherwise taking her off my shoulders to remove the layers will disturb her.

As we strip off our ice breaker layers the skies show us that the day is going to be a hot one. Our plan was to cover the kilometres as quickly as possible as sections of the trail today we knew would be lacking in shade. We were aiming to be at the albergue by 12 noon if we could.

However our day didn’t start well. This time my feet weren’t to blame, threading cotton through my blisters and using betadine had helped slightly overnight and I had become more proficient in taping my feet. Instead poor sleep was affecting both of us and it was Nick’s turn to be hurting today. Unsurprisingly Nick was really struggling with his pack and I had noticed that his knee had begun bothering him. Reluctantly he had begun using a knee brace. We had discussed trying to lighten the pack even further but were at a loss as to what we could possibly do without - we were at the bare minimum as it was. Not helping matters the camino crosses several regions of Spain bringing with it regional variations in weather. The middle section, the meseta or desert region is hot but the final region of Galicia is known to be incredibly wet and can be cold so a range of clothing options are required.

Our morning walk allowed us to catch up with the familiar german faces from dinner last night and a lovely group of german men who we have been keeping pace with since the early days on the Camino. One of these men is my father-in-laws doppelganger (my husband did a serious double take the first time we met them) and Aurelia jumps up and down in the carrier when she sees him - a sure sign she hasn’t forgotten her Poppy. As usual we meet strangers on the path who all take photos of the “littlest peregrino” and she obliges with big monster smiles and waves.

As we walked on we saw the option to head off towards Ventosa on a smaller track which would weave through olive trees and cereal fields. Pilgrim after pilgrim made the turn in front of us. Ahead of us (if we chose to not walk through Ventosa) lay a straight, boring trail which ran mind numbingly parallel to the N-20. No churches, shops or cafes on this path. However it was shorter and with time being the issue in the forefront of our minds and knowing we were carrying enough water we pushed on straight ahead on the N-20 route without looking back at Ventosa.

We ate while walking to make the best time possible while Raya was sleeping in the carrier. Today Nick would pass food to her while she was in the carrier and she would have plenty of time to crawl around if we made it to Najera in good time.

The walking was nothing memorable and neither of us were in a mood to appreciate the scenery. It was a case of put one foot in front of the other. Repeat.

This repetition was only broken by Raya jumping up and down in the carrier with excitement. We looked around us to see what had got her so excited. Nick was shaking his head in confusion - perhaps there had been an animal we had missed however as I looked at the path I knew what had captured her attention - the rocks.

Back home in Australia Aurelia loved to watch a BBC show “In the Night Garden”. One of the characters Maka Paka loved to arrange stones into small piles - exactly as pilgrims had done with stones on the trail. Aurelia had obviously thought Maka Paka had been here so we spent some time looking at the stones while she laughed. Nick and I commented the arranging of the stones had obviously been done on a much cooler day.

Walking on past the Maka Paka artwork was the hardest part of the walk that day. By now the sun was almost overhead and we were struggling. The heat and low mood made each step harder. It is generally not the physical action or discomfort but the mood that accompanies it which determines how difficult a person finds a task. Our moods were not helping us out.

As we reached the top of Alto de San Anton the dark cloud that had been travelling with us all morning dissapated and we felt the beauty of the camino shine down on us. The view was like a long cool drink and our spirits felt rejuvenated. Nick commented that “this was what he looked forward to on the camino each day”. To the left we saw indigo coloured mountains with white peaks and as we stood under the shade of the tree we were surrounded by vineyards with Najera spread across the horizon.

Onwards we walked, eating our baguettes, as we continued on down the gentle sloping descent into the city.

Walking down the trail, as we changed Raya’s nappy, came the Spanish man with the dog who was now walking with the ‘Swiss Blister Boy’ who we had helped on the side of the road. With smiles and ‘Buen Camino’ greetings we all continued onwards towards Najera.

This part of the walk was ugly, with a huge radio tower having been installed on the top of a mountain and the industrial region and quarry sitting like a scar on the landscape. Then out of the blue we spied Wolfgang - he just kept popping up along the trail when we least expected it.

We reached the albergue in Najera with the help of some locals who pointed us in the right direction as we crossed the river flowing through the town.

We reached the albergue in Najera with the help of some locals who pointed us in the right direction as we crossed the river flowing through the town.

We were 5th to arrive at the albergue and there was nothing else to do except follow the other pilgrims, who had arrived ahead of us, staring in disbelief at the sign that informed us that the albergue didn’t open till 3pm!!! We now had 4 hours to kill.

We decided we would just queue our packs and retreat to the shaded grass area next to the river until the albergue opened. From here we could spread out, Raya could crawl around, people could do yoga and we could all keep an eye on our belongings. Nick and I knew our pack was safe - someone would have to be able to lift our pack before they could steal it and we knew the average person had NO chance.

Here relaxing on the grass we met Tim, an English character now living in Ireland, and his Portugese camino buddy. Tim spoke little Spanish and the Portugese guy limited English and yet they were getting along like a house on fire - perhaps limited communication rather than the endless Top Five games we had been playing - was the key!!

Tim informed us he had continually heard about us, the “Australian couple with the baby”, the “littlest pilgrim” and he was excited to catch up with us and hear our story. We were surprised that so many people were talking about Aurelia but Tim assured us that she had quickly become a legend on the camino with people showing the photos they had taken of her to each other to confirm they weren’t lying - they actually had seen a baby on the camino. Wow - a legend on the camino. We figured that made us legends by default.

This Portugese pilgrim was amazing. He must have been 50-55 with grown children our own age but he didn’t look a day over 35 ageing with more finesse than any0ne person was entitled too. He walked at an extremely fast pace and wasn’t carrying a single injury. If it wasn’t for his adoration of Aurelia - who crawled all over him like he was a piece of playground equipment - and emptying his wallet in between blowing him kisses - he would have been banished from our sight.

Tim, with great humour, shared stories from his Camino so far, including getting lost going over the Pyrenees. But it was the tales of the other families he had met on the camino that made our ears really prick up. Other families! With more than one child!! I felt a sense of relief to know that we were not alone in our madness.

Tim told us he had encountered two other families. The first family had three children who they were transporting in a large buggy that you normally saw attached to a bicycle. He believed one child was similar to Aurelia’s age, the other two 6 and 8. We couldn’t imagine taking the little legs of a 6 or 8 year old over some of the ground we had covered nor could we imagine pushing the combined weight of a 6 and 8 year old. Still people thought we were crazy so we reserved judgement till we hopefully crossed paths with the family.

Tim told us that the second family were an Irish couple with a little boy who they were pushing in a pram along the camino. He didn’t have any other details other than to say the baby was a delightful little chap. Mmm perhaps Aurelia was not the “littlest peregrino” after all.

Tired of waiting the Portugese man decided to walk on but we were done for the day and happy to wait in the sunshine. Slowly we watched a pattern emerge. Pilgrim walks slowly along the road to albergue. Turns corner and stops when he/she sees packs. Walks to door. Emits audible groan. Throws pack on ground at end of the queue. Retreats to shade. Removes boots. Does not move.

Being a teacher I let my eyes wander to the schoolyard next to the albergue. The class is having what I think is a fitness lesson on the concrete playground. The lesson involves the kids riding scooters through witches cones. I don’t imagine any of them even broke a sweat. That isn’t going to help any of them burn off the kilojoules a Spanish diet delivers in the form of numerous sweets and lollies we see Spanish children consuming. That sooo would not pass for a fitness lesson back at home in my school.

Finally the doors of the albergue are opened and people go to rejoin their packs. We overhear an Italian pilgrim commenting that he has just had to walk back from Logrono for a second time. Seems he had tendonitis so had to go back to Logrono to buy NEW hiking boots. Nick and I look at each other in horror. Imagine wearing boots that haven’t been broken in. I had the blisters from hell and that was walking in well broken in shoes. We asked him what he had been walking in and he told us sandals - he had left his hiking boots at home in Italy because he didn’t think he would need them and they would be too heavy. At this comment we all had a bit of a laugh - his with a slightly manic tinge. I guess when the camino threw you a hand of cards like tendonitis and new boots you either laughed or cried.

As we moved inside the albergue we were greeted by a sour pair of Germans who were in the role of albergue volunteers. We smiled as we passed our credentials across the counter and Aurelia gave one of her big cheesy grins. The woman sneered in response. Charming! Even the pilgrims standing near us looked shocked at her reaction. Where was the hospitality -after all they were called hospitalero's.

I asked if there was a problem with us having Aurelia in the albergue to which there was no response from either of them other than for them to take our 10 euro. Right end of the matter in my mind - we paid, we were staying. Don’t like having a child then don’t take our money!!

Pointing to the map of the dorm room, we saw the single level building which I suspect was initially part of the school building next door must sleep over 100 people, the male volunteer indicated that we had to decide where we would sleep but that the best spot with Aurelia would be one of the end beds. No problem. We picked up our gear and headed straight to the end of the dorm room. As we walked along the narrow row between the bunk beds nearly every person who saw us smiled at Aurelia and many knew her name although we had never met them which made us feel a little odd. Still the warm reception helped thaw the ice reception the volunteers had given us.

One advantage of participating in the race to the albergue is early in the queue means early to the showers. Yes - hot water for us today!!!

Now I am proud to be a woman but the behaviour of some in the showers makes me feel ashamed. No it isn’t the full frontal nudity, it is the way women seem to disregard each other. The men, according to Nick, have ultra quick showers, with men passing through the bathroom quickly. If they are in there long enough to remove the days smell is open for debate, but they don’t muck around in there.

The women however seem to think they are in the bathroom at home. I may be 5th in the queue but that doesn’t mean I need to adopt a “stuff you all attitude” in regards to the hot water. I shower as quickly as possible, pop my bra and undies on, and then come out from my cubicle to dress leaving the cubicle free for the next sweaty pilgrim waiting in the bathroom. I notice when I jump out that the two women who entered the cubicles on either side of me, before my shower, are still in there with steam pouring from the top of their shower cubicles. How considerate.

On the topic of shower room ettiquette, when I walk out from my cubicle I almost walk directly into the two completely naked Spanish women standing side by side at the hand basins. I know they are both Spanish (we had already exchanged the usual “Are you the Australian with the baby” details in which they told me they were from Spain) but they are both speaking in English which strikes me as odd. Waiting to brush my teeth, and not wanting to lean around the naked woman to reach the sink, I stand waiting with nothing else to do but eavesdrop.

The woman to the left is hand washing in the basin and commenting that she really needs another pair of shorts. I assume she is referring to a normal pair of shorts like I am wearing - I only have two pairs as I packed zip off pants. The woman in front of me nods in agreement. The woman then says ‘I only have these 1 pair” and holds up a pair of lacy boy leg undies. You have got to be joking!!! 1 pair of undies for a month of walking. Now I love lace undies as much as any woman but a synthetic fibre would not be my choice for the weather or terrain we were experiencing.

As I continue to look on in disbelief she pops the just washed ‘shorts’ under the hand dryer and when satisfied bends down and puts them on. Obviously I am being excessive bringing 4 changes of undies with me.

Finally it is my turn to clean my teeth and I almost choke on my Colgate when the Spanish woman, now with clean undies, proceeds to haul a toiletries bag equal in weight to our pack, up onto the sink. Pulling back the zip she reveals moisturiser, conditioner and shampoo (I’m using a bar of soap),mascara, foundation, contact solution (fair enough a pilgrim has to see) and a facial and eye mask. No wonder she only has room for one pair of undies!!!

The remainder of the afternoon and evening was filled with the standard washing, eating and journaling. When Nick set up Aurelia’s cot he saw that the valve for the Kinderkot mattress was torn, rendering the mattress useless. Glue and tape didn‘t work so the mattress ended up in the bin. Unless we wanted Aurelia to be sleeping directly on the floor our option now was to use our sleeping bags to providing padding for her. After some playing with the cot Nick finally got it set up.

Every time the female volunteer saw Aurelia a look of displeasure crossed her face. Almost immediately following us setting up the cot she comes marching down the aisle and using a series of grunts and motioning with her foot we get the idea she doesn’t like the placement of Aurelia’s bed. In frustration Nick repositions all of our gear and moves the cot. My hand is itching to slap her one.

We are not the only pilgrims she has taken a disliking too and finally moves on to frown in the direction of some outgoing Brazilian guys.

In the albergue there was a huge sign that read “A tourist is demanding: a pilgrim is thankful” - well I guess that makes me a Camino tourist today I thought. Despite to escape the depressing mood in this alberque we join the exodus at dinner time to a nearby restaurant for another standard pilgrim meal.

I don’t recall what time it was when I woke up lathered in sweat and freezing cold during the night. I scrambled around in my compression sack to reach as many thermal items as I could. Within minutes the layers were soaking. I curled myself up in a ball inside my sleeping bag liner praying I could fall back to sleep, too cold to move from the foetal position I had curled up into. The shakes continued.

The lights being turned on at 6am woke me and I felt like I was dying. Grabbing my towel I made for the toilets and a hot shower. My hair was plastered to my head from sweat and I was still freezing. Standing under a scalding stream of water I thought how odd it had been that I hadn’t felt like I was coming down with the flu yesterday. I went to lift my left arm to reach for the soap and my left breast felt like it had been sliced with a knife. I dropped my arm and lowered my eyes to look at my breast. I had felt that the straps on the carrier may have been chafing yesterday but not to the degree of pain I was feeling now. I moved my right arm over my left breast and felt the hard patch with heat radiating from it. All the symptoms fit together now and tied into Aurelia dropping some of her daily breastfeeds.

I dried off and went back to the dorm room. Nick looked at me concerned.I told him we weren’t walking anywhere today except to check in to the three star hotel in town.
I had my first case of mastitis.