Tuesday, January 5, 2016

El Camino de Santiago, Part II

On the road again

By Valeria Idakieva

[Part I, “Challenge and reward,” was published on November 24.]

It was in vain the previous night that I waited in an albergue in Pamplona for my delayed luggage – it arrived at 9:30 the next morning, which meant a late start for the day. At the sight of my backpack I breathed a sigh of relief, but one more surprise was in store for me. Not only was my luggage delayed but also my backpack was torn. Not surprisingly, I was furious. Still, I decided not to contact the airport any more. If I had tried to make a complaint, it would have cost me time, money, and emotions to go back to the airport and deal with the matter – and spoiled my Camino. So I resorted to saying “nice” things about the airline in a low voice.
    There was a moment of hesitation whether to continue with the backpack I had been given in Roncesvalles, but I felt it was not the proper decision. So I told my backpack that it would go to Santiago, even if it reached the city torn into pieces. After all, it was my backpack that had shared my adventures for the last 15 years and was meant to be with me on the Camino. The dilemma resolved, I took out needle and thread, mended my backpack, and went to the biggest albergue in Pamplona to leave the backpack from Roncesvalles for another pilgrim in need. It was almost lunchtime when I left Pamplona. The sky was dark, threatening to pour down, but the road was waiting for me to follow it again and experience the adventures prepared for me.
    In an hour or so I came across the two Bulgarian pilgrims whom I had met before Pamplona. We thought we would not meet on the Camino again because it had been my intention to start earlier and walk more than the 20 km they were planning to walk. They told me they had stayed in the biggest municipal albergue in Pamplona, where they slept with about 150 people in an enormous room. I agreed it can’t have been nice. Anyway, on the Camino you should be prepared to sleep with a lot of people and get used to having little space and privacy. We went on walking together for some time, following the road that twisted and turned through crop fields and occasionally passed through small, quiet towns.
    We parted and wished each other Buen Camino again in one of the small towns where they decided to stay, and I continued a little farther, as I had already planned to reach the town of Puente la Reina.

Before starting the Camino I had read a lot of reviews, most of which said it was better to get up about 5:00 a.m. so that you could find a bed in the albergues and avoid the afternoon heat. I decided I definitely would not do that. My heart sleeps at 5:00 a.m., and I cannot walk and sleep at the same time. The night I slept in Puente la Reina I was awakened by the usual hustle and bustle of people getting their backpacks ready for leaving the albergue. I looked at my watch. It was 4:00 a.m.
    Are these people crazy? I asked myself, before turning to the other side of the bed and falling asleep again. What woke me up again was the buzzing sound of many lamps being switched on. I looked at my watch. It was 4:00 a.m. again. I realized something was wrong with my watch and quickly jumped out of bed. The time was 8:30 and almost everyone had left the albergue.
    I was sitting at a café making new plans for the day when I caught sight of the two Bulgarians. We had a good laugh over my story and agreed we were destined to meet again and walk a little more together. We headed towards the famous pilgrim’s bridge that was constructed by one of the Spanish queens to help the pilgrims on their way to Santiago and which gave its name of the town – Puente la Reina (Queen’s Bridge).
    Wandering through the narrow cobbled streets, we could hear a melody coming from a church. It was a clear, strong voice flowing like a mountain spring, and we could not resist following it. We entered the church and joined a service. The voice belonged to a nun who was leading the service, and the people who attended the service joined her at the chorus. It was a new, uplifting experience for me, eye-opening in a way. Since I was born in a socialist country, religion is something more like a tradition for me and, even though the church played a tremendous role in preserving Bulgarian language and identity through the centuries, now it does not attract many followers. Here it was different; it was obvious that the churchgoers enjoyed being there.
    With the inspiring tune in our heads we soon reached the impressive bridge, which was bathed in sunlight.

    And then the road took us through the beautiful countryside.
    And enchanting small villages.

In one of these villages I said “Buen Camino” to my friends again and started walking a little faster since I intended to reach Santiago in less than a month. That was the last time I met them on the Camino. My body did not agree with the additional 13 kilos of my backpack, but it had to get used to it, because I was not going to follow the example of a lot of other pilgrims who dumped some of the contents of their backpacks to make them lighter. Strange as it may seem, I am fond of most of the things in my backpack.
    When leaving the town of Estela at almost dusk, I bumped into one of the most popular pilgrim’s attractions – the wine fountain. I had almost forgotten about it, but here it was, inviting me to continue the tradition of the Benedictine monks.

    I took a swig of red wine and hurried to the village of Villamayor de Monjardin, where I was going to stay for the night.

The next morning I started at about 7:30, which I thought was relatively early, but still all the other pilgrims had already left the albergue. There was nowhere to buy coffee in the village, but a pleasant surprise was awaiting me in the middle of nowhere.
    Although it was windy and the sky was pretty dark, the hot cup of coffee and the smiling people who ran this place lifted my spirits and I continued cheerfully through the open countryside, which offered great views.

I had read disbelievingly about small, picturesque villages on the Camino where good will, kindness, and simplicity were preserved in people’s lives. But passing through a village and seeing people’s bags hung on their gates and bakers leaving bread for them proved me wrong. Here was a community where people trusted each other and lived peacefully.
    It was already 4:00 o’clock and pretty hot when I reached Viana, a beautiful old Spanish town that keeps memories of the Borgia family. Cesare Borgia was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI. At the age of 15 he became the Bishop of Pamplona and became the first cardinal in history to resign.
    In the center of the town I came across Hiroki, a Japanese pilgrim, whom I had met a few times on the way. He told me there were no free beds in the central albergue and I should find another one. Roaming through the streets, I somehow came to the end of the town and found it more natural to walk the 10 more km to Logrono than come back and search for another albergue.
    Having walked for 41 km, most of them under the hot, searing sun, when I entered Logrono I was nearly ready to drop dead. I entered the first albergue and asked about free beds. Yes, there were free beds. The Romanian receptionist, frustrated by my silence, asked, “Can you speak any other language apart from Bulgarian?”
    “I think, I can, but I am so tired that I don’t know what to say because I still think that if I have to share four square meters with three more people, I’d better look for another albergue.”
    “Don’t worry, I will arrange things.” So whether it was because we came from the same part of the world or because she had Bulgarian friends, I had more space than usual that night.
    Logrono is a busy, bustling city and offers all kinds of entertainment, but I could not afford to stay another day there, so I was on my way early in the morning.

Spaniards are extremely helpful on the Camino. Even in such a big city as Logrono, where you would expect people to hurry and mind their own business, I was pointed the right direction by a local when wondering which way to take.
    On the road again, I was surrounded by beautiful vineyards.

    And walking through the monumental city of Najera, I immersed myself in legends about Moors and Spanish kings and the battles they fought.

Copyright © 2016 by Valeria Idakieva


  1. Really enjoyed reading about your adventure and was sorry it stopped.

    1. Ed, Valeria is already at work on the next installment. I am grateful that she derives pleasure and satisfaction from taking the trek again in her mind through the process of sharing the adventure with us.

  2. A wonderful travelogue Valeria! How was the wine from that unexpected wine fountain?

    1. Thank you Geoffrey! I don't know what was more surprising - the fact that I had forgotten about the fountin or the one that my feet chose this way out of town since there were two of them. Anyway, the wine was worth.

  3. Thank you for the kind words Ed! I am happy you liked it. Being fast is my strength only on the road, but I hope to finish this writing some day.