May 28, 2008 Logroño to Nájera

I believed I could make it over the next two days as far as Santo Domingo de la Calzada, before having to catch a bus or taxi to Burgos for my detour to Copenhagen. So with this goal in mind and all my English-speaking pilgrim friends ahead of me I set my sights on covering the distance.

Just after Logroño vineyards dominate the countryside. It’s clear to see how Logroño is the capital of the famous La Rioja region of Spain, known world-wide for its Tempranillo wines. Entranced by the vineyards I walked right through Navarette, not stopping even for a croissant. After Navarette the town of Ventosa seems best to embody this region. Set on a hill with its church tower dominating the countryside, Ventosa is what you imagine a Riojan town to be like.

After Ventosa I came to the eastern suburbs of Nájera, looking for the 100-bed albergue — quite a transition from the plush hotel of the night before. The albergue is located adjacent to the river park, very near the historic church built over a cave. I dropped my bag at an upper bunk in a large room with 99 other beds and headed to lunch and a tour of the grand church which is located just a couple of blocks away.

The church was not a disappointment. Its Gothic nave is surely one of the most beautiful in Spain, and its crypts contain sarcophagi of many of the kings and queens of La Rioja and Navarre who’d made their capital here in Nájera.

That evening I sat with a crew of English speakers in the albergue’s kitchen and recounted pilgrim stories, particularly how each had survived the hailstorm of the day before. One pilgrim woman had been caught in a freeway underpass as the swirling waters became nearly a foot deep. Though it was a great conversation I held back some, knowing that my detour would cause me to lose connection with yet another group of pilgrims. I began to look forward to my flight to Copenhagen in part to see Gail, but also so I could settle back into what was becoming the best part of pilgrim life — making friends over the course of many days and kilometers with other pilgrims from all around the world.

May 24, 2008 Cizur Menor to Cirauqui

My blisters were quite obnoxious yesterday and it was clear to me now that my best solution would be to purchase hiking boots at the next available town. Stepping onto my feet was an act of will, with each step coming with excruciating pain.

I set out in the morning on my own, but as I made my way uphill to the Alto del Perdon, the heights above Pamplona, I came across Stefan and Trevor, my new South African friends. Trevor was suffering some tendonitis, though he’s obviously a very athletic fellow, and he was slowed down by the constant pain in his leg. We walked together up the steep hill, with Stefan providing some great ideas to make the most of my camino. Since this was his second time on this pilgrimage he suggested upcoming sites that I should be certain not to miss.

At the top of Alto del Perdon we looked out across the vast valley that lay before us, seemingly able to see as far as the next large town of Logroño. Fog rolled in from the north and at times the valley was completely hidden in the mist. At the top of the hill, as on many Spanish hills, were large wind generators. These, too, were often obscured in the clouds. The fog covered the trail and hid us from each other and the vast views.

After walking through the towns of Uterga and Obanos we were at the valley floor, walking among small farms through the towns at the outskirts of Navarre, getting ready to welcome the next province of La Rioja. As we came to the town of Punte la Reina, with its historic medieval bridge, we stepped aside as a Corpus Christi procession came by. Women wearing red and men dressed in formal clothes escorted a statue of the Virgin Mary down the street, accompanied by a marching band. What a great introduction to Spanish religious and cultural life!

Among the vineyard a couple of hours after Puente la Reina a beautiful hilltop city came into view — Cirauqui, my goal for the night. The path into town had turned to sticky, red mud and I nearly lost my shoes several times as I slogged my way through the mud. Heading up to the top of the city I came upon the private albergue, just across the plaza from the hilltop church. After laundry and conversation with other pilgrims, followed by de-mucking my shoes in the fountain by the church, I shared a delightful dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Before bed that night in a room with 5-6 other pilgrims in double bunks, I admired the view to the south over the green hills of La Rioja.