Camino 2014 – Day 10 – Azofra to Redecilla del Camino

September 13th 2014 – Day 10
Azofra to Redecilla del Camino, 27km

Today was my penultimate day. And I had a choice whether to make it a long one or short one. Do I walk to Granon and finish up after 22km or continue to Redecilla del Camino and 27km? By walking a long-ish day today, I would have an easy day into Belorado tomorrow. I also had the choice of sticking around with the guys in this albergue and staying in Granon, where they had planned on staying or moving on to the unknown.

I woke up early as usual. I had a great sleep in probably the best albergues I had stayed in. Apart from the poor wifi, it was fine. No bunks as well..actual beds, so make sure you stop by here if you can! My German friend in the bed beside me was snoring to his heart’s content so I left him quietly and moved on out. I had bought some fruit the evening before so I was sorted. The next town after Azofra was Ciruena, about 9km onwards. It was 5,30 when I moved on, the sky was pitch black but there were a good number of pilgrims out and about. I was expecting some rain today, the first of this Camino. I didn’t mind it, as long as it wasn’t heavy.

It isn’t long before you are back on dirt tracks again once you leave Azofra, Last year, I walked with an extra kilo of mud on my feet due to heavy rain, but today I walked with a crisp under foot. My black boots were unrecognisable now as they had turned to a shade of dark red. I had walked much of the morning alone, and I didn’t mind. I had enjoyed the company over the last week but sometimes your own company is healthy. I walked 9km in just over an hour and a half. It’s amazing how fast you can go with some good music in your ears. I passed alot of people this morning, none whom I recognised. I also knew David, Leslie and Bob were staying in Ciruena, the next town, so I hoped to see them.

I reached Ciruena and it was still dark, but the sun was rising. No clouds in the sky. I remembered my time here last year passing the vast housing estate beside the golf course. As far away from a Camino town as you can go. I try to imagine living here but can’t. Finding the way out of this town is pretty difficult and I become lost again. I take a road out and lose all sight of arrows….I retrace my steps. Gps even fails. I can’t even see the albergue although I see a sign pointing me in it’s direction. Lost is not a great place to be hmm. But just as I walk backwards, I see a woman from England and she tells me “It’s that way”, pointing me in the right way. I thank her and move on. I notice she was carrying the Brierley guide. The same guide that is sitting inside my pack. How lazy of me!

Moving on I meet Liam from Belfast. A tall stocky guy. He had walked from St Jean, but a day after me. He is hobbling but determined. He tells me he was in British Army and had served in Afghanistan so the Camino is a walk in the park. I can well believe him. We talk for an hour or so until he tells me he needs to stop and look at a new blister that is bothering him. I can see Santo Domingo de la Calzada in the distance so hopefully I can find a cafe con leche somewhere. The sun is up now and it is approaching 8am. Santo Domingo is quiet when I arrive, all its pilgrims have moved on and the last few stragglers are checking out of the albergue as I pass it by. I’m delighted to meet Christina again. I haven’t seen her since Ventosa. She splashed out and stayed in the Parador the previous night. She, like me, was looking for an open cafe. I couldn’t find one unfortunately. Maybe as it is Sunday?

I leave Santo Domingo a little after half 8, after resting for a bit. I enjoyed my time there last year. I remember speaking to the hospitalera in the albergue who knew of my home town, even though she is from France. The church with the chicken and the hen was closed unfortunately. I walk alone for an hour or so until I reach Granon. It is still mid-morning and I had completed 22km. The first thing I see when I enter the town is it’s large church..and then a cafe! I walk right to the cafe and order a cafe con leche and an aquarius…as I do every morning. There was a large crowd sitting down outside the cafe, I didn’t know any of them. It felt good to be a stranger again. I kept looking for Liam from a few hours back, or even some of the crowd from the previous night in Azofra. I have David, Leslie and Bob in the back of my mind today also.

It wasn’t long before I hear Liam..”What about ye?!! in a northern Irish dulcet tone. He was glad to see a cafe, like myself, so he sat down and had a cafe con leche. I didn’t mind sitting down for a little longer. The blisters were bothering him and he was considering buying a new pair of shoes in Burgos. I definitely know what he means. I had the same problem back in 2012. About twenty minutes later, I see Bob and Dave wander into the town. Now I didn’t expect to see them again! They both sat down and sipped on a drink. I asked about Leslie and why she wasn’t with them? She had taken a bus to the next albergue as she had problems walking. Bummer!

I reckon I spent the bones of an hour sitting in the same chair at the cafe in Granon. Soaking up the atmosphere, drinking and saying hello to everyone going by. Time meant nothing to me! I was due to finish up the following day and I didn’t want it to end. I was hoping the remaining day and a bit would drag out. We left Granon; Bob, Dave, Liam and myself. The next 3 or 4 kms were uninteresting. We were walking alongside a road and the terrain was flat. It was great to be chatting to the lads again however. Liam fell behind after a while before we reached the border to Castille y Leon, which is the largest province of Spain. The first town we encountered was Redecilla del Camino, which is just off a main road. It literally is a road which consists of a restaurant, a hotel, an albergue and a church. A number of houses lie off the main road. The albergue “Albergue municipal San Lázaro” has 52 bunk beds and is a steal at €5. It wasn’t open when I arrived so myself Bob and Dave waited outside the bar and had a drink and a snack. One last Coca Cola before my last day tomorrow.

Eventually the albergue opened at 1pm and I said goodbye to the lads. They had beds booked in Viloria de Rioja, the next town. I’m quite happy to “ad-lib” the Camino. Some people like to book in advance, but I prefer to let the Camino provide for me. I was very lucky with the weather also, as just as I entered the albergue, the heavens opened. I had dinner in the bar down the road and more good people, new people. The next day is my final day, 12km to Belorado.


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Distractions…can be brushed aside.

I keep meaning to finish writing about the final few days of my last Camino in September. But life gets in the way and it gets put on the long finger. I will finish it by tomorrow. I have some further news though. I met with two friends last weekend. They are also from Ireland and I met them originally somewhere between Azofra and Santo Domingo in 2013. It was raining heavily and my feet were covered in mud. I wasn’t getting very far so it was great to meet some Irish folk who were on the same level as me. Anyway, I have been in contact with them since then and have met them a number of times since I got back. Last weekend we met, drank Riojan wine and brought back memories. We are serial Caminoists and are making plans to return in May next. For me, I hope to start in Belorado towards the start of May. For my friends, they are a little undecided on where to start…or when to start! I, for one, won’t be returning in September. I found it too busy so I’m sticking to May going forward. I choose Belorado as I finished there and I promised the hospitalera I would return. It seems a part of me has been left there.

We also walked around Lough Gur in Limerick, which is an ancient settlement site..stone-age I think. There are a number of buildings with thatched roofs which harked me back to my trip up to O Cebreiro in 2012. The winter solstice approaches in December and there are plans for a big gathering on the grounds beside the settlement. If I lived closer, I would consider going.

Anyway, I better finish off what remains of my previous Camino before the memories fade :)

Photos from The Way

I have another two or three posts to write before I complete my Camino from September but I before I did that, I wanted to tell you about one of my Camino family member’s photos.

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Anna, who walked to Logrono with us, has quite a talent in photography and some of her shots are superb. We were blessed to have good weather also so the sun brought out the best in the hills, valleys and trails. You can check out her photos on her Flickr site here. Some of her photos make mine look plain ordinary ;)

Camino 2014 – Day 9 – Navarrete to Azofra

September 12th 2014 – Day 9
Navarrete to Azofra, 22km

I had a near-perfect sleep after drifting off around 10pm. The town’s church bells woke me a few times but I was back asleep shortly afterward. Most towns in Spain have churches that chime on the hour every hour. I was reminded of my stay in Hontanas last May where the bells kept me awake all night. However, I wake up close to 5am right before the alarm bell went off on my phone. I wanted to get up, get ready and head out on the trail. The destination was Azofra which is 22km eastwards. Last year, I passed it without giving it much thought but I decided to check it out this year as I heard a lot of good things about the municipal albergue. Hmm..I seem to be basing my decisions on where to stay on their albergues..shouldn’t it be the other way around? :)

I leave the hostel keys on the table and quietly close over the door. There is no one around, you could hear a pin drop in the streets. It wasn’t long before I was retracing my steps from last year. The only difference is last year the sun was it is pitch black with a chill in the air. The thought crossed my mind that I could catch David, Bob and Leslie as they were staying in Ventosa which is another 6 km down the line. I first of all had to deal with the pitch black in front of me. I still had this nagging groin pain on my left leg and the blister on my left foot had not burst. A few Camino candy got rid of any pain I had.

Navarrete’s winding streets are tiny and without a decent amount of light you run the threat of getting lost. happened again! I missed an arrow and had to retrace my steps before I ended up on the main road. Once you leave Navarrete, you have a short walk on the main road with lights and then you are back in vineyards again. And once again, at that point I lost the arrows again. I was almost thinking of staying put until the sun came up so I had some natural light. I switched on my torch on my phone and found myself slap bang in the middle of a nowhere. GPS to the rescue! I was off the Camino by a few kilometres. Not a great place to be alone at close to 6am. In the end, I discovered I had followed a rogue arrow down a detour to a town called Sotes. It’s not officially on the Camino but it has an albergue and people can stay there. After about an hour, I got to the next town, Ventosa where my buddies were staying. I meet Christina and her friends from Argentina again as she was leaving and waved to them. It was the first time I saw Christina since outside of Zubiri. I wandered on making my way along more vineyards and dustpaths, mostly alone although I do stumble upon two French women who wish me a Bon Matin!!

It wasn’t long before I could see the lights of Najera and it took an hour or so before I got to the outskirts. My hip was beginning to hurt again but I was hoping the walk would be over soon so I could put my feet up. I was craving a cafe con leche also. Entering Najera is not attractive by the way, the Camino floats alongside an industrial centre. A park doesn’t hide how hideous it is. I pass the funny little dome building and the scribes on the wall and it isn’t long before I cross the River Najerilla. It’s a beautiful town once you get into it. Again, all these memories come back to me from last year.

Leaving Najera, it was close to 9am and I knew my day was nearly over. Azofra is the next town and is about 5 km away. It is also when I bump into Paddy from Canada. He is just leaving Najera and heading to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. He was the life of the party back in Torres del Rio so it was great to talk to him. It was only then that I realised that it was him who stood up on the chair to take a great group shot of us all. A funny man and really intelligent. We reach Azofra close to 11 and grab a drink, a cold one. It’s quiet and the albergue is closed until after 12. What else better to do than chill with a drink until it opens!? I wish Paddy a Buen Camino as he headed to Santo Domingo, where he had a pension booked. At this point, everyone I has previously met are ahead of me. The joys of a slow Camino. I meet new friends here also, Alo from France, Peter from Germany and Joanna from Cork in Ireland, all of whom had started a day after me, the 4th of September. Azofra is such a tiny town, even smaller than Navarrete, but it’s shop / tienda was open all day (yay!!) so I was able to make some dinner. There are no bunks here also. Each room consists of two beds so I had the option of a room to myself or sharing. I shared with Peter. Highlight of the evening was coming across a group from South Korea, all of them stayed in the albergue. One brought with them a guitar and there was a mini-session that evening singing songs from their own country, as well as Beatles tunes.

I must have walked over 25km if you take into account me becoming geographically embarrassed! Tomorrow the aim is Granon as the majority of the gang here are going there..but I would like to walk longer so my last day is as short as possible. Two more days to go!!

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Camino 2014 – Day 8 – Logrono to Navarrete

September 11th 2014 – Day 8
Logrono to Navarrete, 12.5km

A short day but different to the previous week. No more would I be walking with the same crew, and I felt a little down knowing this. But this would be a great chance to meet some new people. After dinner, the night before, I bumped into the three Irish men who I had met first in Roncesvalles. One of them (called Tom) wanted to have a slow day and was hoping to stop in Navarrete, which was my stopping point. So I made plans with him to walk the short distance, around 12km. We agreed on 7.30 the next morning. I might not be walking alone after all.

The next morning came, and I was the last to leave. Tom had stayed in an albergue on the outskirts of the city but I forgot to take note of where it was. After 15 mins waiting, I moved on eastwards. I might see him further on, or he might catch up with me, time will tell. I wondered where Bob, David and Leslie were while making their way to Ventosa. Also, Philippe was going further, possibly to Najera, and Anna..I wondered what she would be doing today. I don’t mind walking by myself but it lets the mind wander. And mine was wandering today.

I have walked this stretch before in May 2013. You can read about it here. Walking out of Logrono, you don’t have the same experience as walking out of Leon or Burgos or Pamplona. You are greeted by a large park once you leave the main city. Murals cover the walls, while dog-walkers and morning-runners pass me. I’m in no great hurry and for the first time this Camino I switch on some music on my phone and my earphones go in. A Spotify playlist I have created blasts out “There is a Light that never goes out” by The Smiths. I start to sing under my breath…”Take me out tonight…”!! It’s one of those songs you want to sing at the top of your voice and I was in that mood! I reach the large reservoir “Planta de Granjera”, and I wait if I could see some fish. The famous pilgrim “Marcelino Lobato” was giving stamps in a stall just by the lake. He has walked the Camino 50 times. On my credencial he wrote “Cada peregrino hace su Camino” which translates to “Each pilgrim does their pilgrimage”. Very true!

Leaving Planta de Granjera, I am back in wine country, with vineyards to each side of me. Walking around this area is great in the autumn when you see the grapes ready for harvest.  It is different in May where the grapes are not ready to be picked. I don’t meet many people today. I’m baffled by this as in the last week, the Camino has been crowded. After an hour, I see the medieval town of Navarrete in the distance, but it is still a while away. It sits tall on a hill. It is not even 9am, I am far too early. Navarrete is a small town based around a hill with a church spire being the highest point, like most towns in Spain.  I walk in looking for the pension which I had booked before I left. It is called Hostal Villa de Navarrete and is located at the far end of the town, across the road from the main municipal albergue. I might as well have been the only pilgrim to have walked into the town that day based on the looks I was getting from locals. But not to worry. I checked in and had to wait an hour before my room was ready. I had some breakfast while I waited. The only food I had today was some fruit and yoghurt.

My room was standard fare, but 5-star compared to the albergues I had stayed in over the last week. I usually book one room in advance and this year I chose this small town. No idea why. After a rest, I took a wander around. I wanted to check out Naverrete’s church which is decorated with gold. I took a minute out here before checking if I knew anyone in the municipal albergue. I didn’t recognise anyone. I guess everyone who started with me on day one was ahead of me.

After the town’s siesta I came out later and had a meal in the restaurant with some folks I had got talking to. The weather gods were very kind again to us today with no rain and only a few clouds. We were expecting rain however, either the following day or the day after. Overall a short day, and one where I got used to walking by myself.

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Camino 2014 – Day 7 – Torres del Rio to Logrono

September 10th 2014 – Day 7
Torres del Rio to Logrono, 20km

We had another early start today but a short day was planned as decided to finish up in Logrono. It was Anna’s final day also. She has walked with us since Pamplona and was part of the family. But we had another few hours of walking to go before saying our goodbyes. I was also looking forward to getting back to Logrono as I had started my previous Camino there last year.

The weather was perfect again but it was cold in the morning. We were getting close to the La Rioja / Navarra border, which is just as you enter Logrono. La Rioja includes Logrono, Najera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and ends just after Granon..which is another 4 days away. Navarra has been very kind to us since we crossed into it at Roncesvalles. But it has some of the toughest terrains on the Camino. Wine Country awaits. The bad thing about leaving Torres del Rio at crazy o clock is there is a pretty tough climb just as you open the door of the albergue. We have a nice 100metres ascent over 2kms. I find climbs no problem at this stage and reached the top of the hill (Alto NS del Poyo) in no time. There is a Spanish couple giving refreshments for a donation at the top and I take a can of Coke to cool me down. It is only 7am at this stage and I watch the sun rise while I sip on my drink. I’m joined by a Belgian girl called Cap. She stayed in the same albergue as us last night. She is in university at present and can afford the time to have a long Camino. Oh I wish I was in her position again! I’ve also noticed over the last week that I had been drinking a lot of cans of Coke. Back in Ireland, I never drink it, but here I was a 1-or-2-a-day-man. I hope I don’t bring the habit home with me.

After the climb, comes the descent and I let Dave and Anna walk ahead as I navigate cautiously. The ground below me is made of dry red silt as there has been no rain here in a week. The descent is around bends and is tricky. You can tell I’m not a descent kind-of-guy! I had noticed, along with my blister at the back of my foot, that I had been getting pain in my left hip. It only seemed to affect me on descents but a few Camino candy sorted me out for the day.

We arrive at Viana, 12km from Torres del Rio. The Camino cuts through the old town, which is asleep. The only movement is coming from the main plaza. About half a dozen men are putting together a bull ring so I can only assume the town is holding “a running of the bulls”. There are no advertisements for it however. We walk on after a few minutes. Our next stop is La Rioja and Logrono. I’m not a fan of walking into large cities. Last year, the walk into Burgos was depressing and in 2011, the walk into Santiago was one I wish I could avoid. But they are part of the Camino as a whole and must be done unfortunately. The final 6kms into Logrono passes through suburbs, under tunnels and along main roads. A large green sign post with “Communidad de la Rioja” tells you exactly where you are. Just before that, we passed Felisa who sells trinkets and gives a stamp for a donation. She and her family have been doing this all her life. It is a great place to grab a rest as there are a few seats. I recognised Logrono’s main bridge (Puente de Piedra) over the Rio Ebro but many of it’s streets were in darkness when I arrived last year.

Logrono is a large town, with over 140,000 people living there. It is a recommended end stage also, and many pilgrims stay here. It has 7 albergues also, and it is next to impossible to not find a bed here. We stayed in one of the many private albergues here and after settling in, Anna decided that we meet to say our goodbyes. It was great to see Phillipe later on as it meant he could wish Anna well also. I slept for a few hours and met in the main plaza while the town was waking up. The meal as always was fab and I drank far too much wine yet again. Saying goodbyes are never my forte and saying goodbye on the Camino is much harder. You open yourself up to people whom you would consider strangers days before and friendships are formed. Anna also kindly gave each of us a bracelet with a shell attached to it, the symbol of the Camino.

I had decided before reaching Logrono to start walking by myself for a while. Prior to the Camino, I booked a room in a pension in Navarrette so I had tomorrow’s walk set out for me. Dave, Bob and Leslie were walking to Ventosa which is further on so it was unlikely I would see them again. I hoped I did as I wanted to wish them goodbye. Tomorrow would be another short day which I looked forward to. It would be on familiar ground after walking it in 2013.

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Camino 2014 – Day 6 – Ayegui to Torres del Rio

September 9th 2014 – Day 6
Ayegui to Torres del Rio, 28km

During dinner the evening before, we agreed to keep staying away from the towns recommended by Brierley to finish your day. The next end town was Los Arcos and after that was Torres del Rio, at further 10km. So the plan was to aim for Torres del Rio, which is in or around 30km if you take ascents into account. I also started to notice that the majority of people were phoning ahead an pre-booking albergues for the next day, which I avoid doing. I kinda prefer to let the Camino do it’s work and if an albergue is booked out, I move on to the next, however, I didn’t want to loose my buddies I had met and asked that I be included in the booking in Torres del Rio. That was that..the first time I booked an albergue in advance..felt kinda strange!

That morning, we (Dave, myself and Anna) started out early, as it was going to be a hot sunny day again in Navarre. It was pitch black and I believe it was close to 5am. Easily a record for earliest start in my books! Walking out of Ayegui, you need to venture to the main road and again, you need to be careful as failure to spot a sign means you are lost. And guess what!? We missed a sign! Hmm..we turned back until we saw the sign for the turn off to “Bodegas Irache”, the free flowing wine fountain. I heard about this place ages ago, almost on the same day I heard about the actual Camino. Imagine waking up, being still asleep and before having breakfast, sipping on free wine. Nice, eh? It was 5.30am, we sure were the first ones there that morning. Pity I hadn’t an extra bottle, I would have filled it up for the rest of the day.

We moved on after a while through wooded forests, plenty of trees and it wasn’t long before the climb to Villamayor de Monjardin began. We had a 150m climb ahead of us over a few kms. We have walked worse however. The sun was starting to gradually rise as we were climbing. There wasn’t a cloud in the young sky. We reached Villamayor before 7am after a nice climb, it’s large church greeted us. There was nothing open when we arrived and we looked right through the town hoping that a cafe or an albergue was serving breakfast. It wasn’t to be. Damn! Now we had a nice 10km stretch ahead of us to Los Arcos with no towns. I have walked longer without food, but it is breakfast..c’mon! :) Brierley even mentions “Take food with you during this difficult section!!”

Walking from Villamayor is all downhill for 6km or so and then the terrain becomes flat. We walk through field after field of vineyards. Nothing else. We passed owners looking after their crop, with the sun looking down on us. We pass a Spanish man beside his van, who was either opening up or closing down. After a quick conversation, we found out he was closing his mobile cafe. A highlight of the day came on the stretch leading to Los Arcos. Myself and Dave were talking for quite a while and didn’t notice Anna in the background. She ran up to us with large branch each of grapes from the fields. A great though and it quenched the thirst until Los Arcos.

We arrived into Los Arcos close to 11am and we went straight for the local cafe. There were two there. I bought a roll and a cafe con leche and took my shoes off. I honestly wanted to finish up there, but purely because it was so warm. We had another 8km to go before we reached Torres del Rio. We came across our German friends, whom we hadn’t seen in a few days and I met another Irish friend that I last saw in Roncesvalles. Local men were playing cards in the main square as the bells chimed for 11am in the Church of Santa Maria. I didn’t visit the church unfortunately. I hope to stay here the next time I visit. I remember thinking to myself that we were so far ahead of anyone at this stage that there was no need to book the albergue in Torres. Ugh..I hate races!

The next 8km was mostly flat but this was broken by a steep climb into Sansol, a small town before Torres del Rio. I often wonder who gave the go ahead to build these towns so close to each other. On reaching Sansol, you turn a corner and you reach Torres del Rio. It is a fab town, it’s main attraction is the sepulcher church. It was quiet, and as it was after midday, it was reaching the start of it’s siesta. I needed one after that day. We checked in, got the clothes washed and had some lunch. Anna was super-thoughtful again and bought a melon in Los Arcos. We along with the other folks staying in Casa Mariela ate it all, with help from 2 cats. There was a good crowd staying here, alot of people we hadn’t met before, including 2 English men. They were great fun. Phillipe found us also, along with Bob and Leslie. The other two private albergues were booked solid by 3pm so it was turning out to be a busy September! We went for dinner later on that evening and I had an early night afterwards. The sun took a bit out of me but I survived. Just.

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