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.


  1. Hi Chelle, Nick and Raya, I have really been enjoying reading your blog about walking the Camino and was wondering if you are going to keep posting the rest of your walk. I have really enjoyed it so far and would love to read it to the end.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. Yes we will definetely be continuing the blog - the best stuff is yet to come. I have just been super busy being mum to a toddler and being back at work fulltime. Will be aiming to update this week sometime


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