El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

La Rioja

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Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

22 May 1993 and 7/8 June 2002 hops

From Nájera the Camino climbs through pine woods to the top of a ridge from which there are extensive views into the distance. There are many vineyards here but also other crops including a plantation of hops growing up their tall supports.

1993. The weather was fine this year and I was able to dry some laundry by pinning it to the lid of my rucksack. There were a few other pilgrims on the road and we greeted each other as we passed and were repassed when stopping for rests.

When I was walking up a hill I heard a shout from Mikel who was following. He pointed to a flock of vultures that was circling above me. I shouted at them that I was not yet dead and they moved off.

Just before Santo Domingo we passed a potato field that seemed to be more stones than soil. The potatoes had been banked up by plough and this must have shortened the life of the ploughshares by a considerable extent.

Arriving in Santo Domingo we soon found the refugio in the high street and claimed our places. This refugio is run by the local Red Cross and the kitchen was well stocked with basics such as rice, pasta and onions. We soon reached agreement on what we would eat later and set off to buy supplies.

The town was in fiesta because of a convention of landowners from Andalucia. There was fancy horse riding in the streets and lots of girls in flamenco dresses. The local hosts were very proud of their town and we had a steady procession of colourfully dressed visitors to our refugio.

In the evening the ladies in our party took over the kitchen to cook soup and lots of tortillas from the results of the shopping trips. There were also several bottles of Rioja wine. It so happened that the only corkscrew in the refugio was on my Swiss Army knife so I received many tasters.

Cathedral at Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is famous for the legend about a young man travelling with his parents to Santiago. This young man was falsely accused of theft and hanged. When his parents returned from their pilgrimage they discovered that their son was still alive on the gallows. They rushed to the judge who was at dinner and who declared that he would sooner believe that the roast cock and hen on his plate were still alive. The birds immediately jumped up and crowed and the boy was saved. To this day a white cock and hen are kept in an ornate cage in the cathedral.

Roland

2002. Since we had stayed the previous night in Navarrete we passed through Nájera in the early afternoon, stopping for coffee and cakes and had a look around the improved refugio. We then walked to Azofra, about 5km. The parish refugio was already full but we were directed to a private one in the square. This was locked but we found the owner, Roland, in a nearby bar and he took our rucksacks in and we returned to the bar.

Lars was already there smiling over a beer so we stayed to watch a World Cup match between Spain and Paraguay. We cheered every Spanish goal until the bar kitchen was reopened to cook our meal. Peter arrived in time for the meal and Lars had to slip away to see a doctor about his blisters.

Roland’s refugio is in an old house and the sleeping accommodation is in five three bedded rooms. There were only six of us staying that night, all known to each other, so we had plenty of room to spread out. Roland did all our laundry in his washing machine but the heavy rain forced us to string lines of spare bootlaces throughout the rooms.

In the evening we went back to the bar for a light meal then sat up late in the refugio sharing a large bottle of wine with Roland. Since this is a private refugio Roland only allows in people he likes and this evening he was satisfied to have only six out of fifteen beds full. He does not have a conventional rubber stamp but instead marks credentiales with a thumbprint.

donkey

The rain continued all night and, after an early breakfast with Roland, we chatted until after 7am. We then had to accept the weather and put on our waterproofs to walk to Santo Domingo. Near the hop fields at Cirueña we met a French pilgrim with a donkey. He was walking much slower than us because the donkey was feeding itself from the roadside as it ambled along.

A large field of mange tout peas proved too tempting and we ate these raw while walking into Santo Domingo.

In Santo Domingo we had our credenciales stamped in the refugio then coffee while we decided what to do. Lars was running out of holiday time and his feet were badly blistered. He therefore decided to finish his Camino here and return to Germany by train. The remaining four of our gang, Jann, Judy, Peter and me, continued into the rain.