Stage 8, Take 2: Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada (Curtis’ report)

Linda commented to me a few days ago, when I was baking in the heat of an unnecessarily warm autumn early afternoon, that she was loving it because “Australians are solar-powered”. Well, I hope you enjoyed the wind today, love, ’cause Chicagoans are wind-powered.

We woke this morning to a news broadcast in the bar of the hotel that said that fifteen of Spain’s seventeen autonomous communities were on alert for high winds. No rain, but I could see the tops of the trees in the plaza outside the bar whipping around in the wind. Wind I don’t mind, but I was a tad concerned that we might see our first actual day of rain on the Camino, and the wind/rain combination is one I don’t generally fancy walking in. I advised Linda and Cheryl to keep their rain gear at the top of their walking packs just in case, and we set off after a far too meagre breakfast: toast and coffee, which, let’s face it, doesn’t cut it for energy in the face of a 21 kilometer walk. (Fortunately, I was able to get myself a ham omelette and a second coffee six kilometers down the road in the village of Azofra, so it was all good, as they say.)

Speedy McLeod was off like greyhound again as soon as we hit the edge of town.

This is all we usually get to see of Linda during the day

The day started out overcast enough,but by the time we hit the plains beyond Azofra, where Cheryl and I halted for a bit of “second breakfast”, the rising wind had kicked up and blown back the clouds and a brilliant sun, set in the most magnificently blue sky, accompanied us for the rest of the journey into Santo Domingo de la Calzada. I’ll admit that the wind made for some tough walking at a few points (and, believe me, I got an earful about it from Linda later hat afternoon), but it kept the heat off my head and kept me cool. I loved it. And I just knocked down the long, gradual ascent to which Linda refers in her post below like it was nothing. All the cycling and walking this summer has stood me in good stead.

Of course, getting to the top of the hill, one discovers one of the travesties of the Camino in the Rioja region: the regional government, in collusion with some unscrupulous property developers, has plopped an exclusive, members-only golf club down smack in the middle of the Camino, just before the village of Cirueña. They’ve also slapped up a pricey housing development which no one seems to have bought into since most of the flats and chalets are shuttered up and stand empty. It’s bizarre, like someone actually set out to build an expensive ghost town! I also have more personal reasons for disliking the golf club and housing development: one of my happiest memories of the first pilgrimage I made to Santiago back in the mid 1990s was of resting beneath the branches of a small grove of oak trees, chatting with a French woman and her daughter and eating a bag of fresh cherries that the parish priest of Azofra had driven back to bring me after he had generously offered to take my ridiculously overstuffed backpack on to Santo Domingo before realizing that I would then have no food with me to eat on the way. Now that grove of trees is behind the fence surrounding the golf course and well off-limits to commoners such as myself. Grrrr.
Members only, scrubber ...

I didn’t stop in Cirueña since I wanted to take advantage of a relatively short day’s walk and get in as early as I could to have a good lunch, perhaps a nap, do a bit of laundry and make evening Mass. The Camino comes in on a rise in the plains above Santo Domingo, which can be seen from a very long way off and does not seem to get any closer for quite some time as you walk towards it. But I got there, and I got everything I wanted to do done, except for the nap, and had a relaxing afternoon. Our lodging was the hostal run by the Cistercian sisters, and it was an oasis of peace! Simple, immaculate rooms and a hearty supper of grilled fish or fried eggs and ham served up by the nuns out of their own kitchen. I slept better last night than I think I have almost anywhere else since Roncesvalles, and considering the physical demands of the Camino, that’s saying something.

A shepherd chats with a pilgrim outside Santo Domingo de la Calzada