My tripes got better. I think they just wanted a shot of bourbon and a glass of beer.
I now have a new favorite place in Spain. I am very, very pleased.
But first things first.
Since I last wrote to you I walked a very long 30-km day and stayed at a funky Austrian pilgrim hostel in Los Arcos. (I was going to stop sooner but it is still early in the season, and not all the smaller places are open yet. So I learned the hard way... the last nine km. into Los Arcos are the longest on the Camino.) Outside of Estella I ran into a pilgrim who stayed at our house about a month ago -- Gerardo is walking back home to Zaragoza. He recognized me from across the highway! How cool is that? I linked up for a little while with three English-speaking pilgs who turned out to be the very worst kind of cheap-ass tourists -- people who know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. In Bar Pito in Viana I saw the living incarnation of Selma, Marge Simpson´s chain-smoking sister. (I also had an amazing 12 Euro Menu del Dia, with a great haunch of roast lamb as the segundo! Mmm!) I lost the Turigrinos in Logroño and am now continuing a meander through La Rioja -- I´ve gone off the usual Camino route.
I am trying to listen more, and hear all the layers of sound beneath what at first seems to be silence. There is much music here. While walking the municipal park paths out of Logroño I listened to the nannies singing to the little ones as they pushed them in their buggies. In Ciriauqui I sang, too, right out loud, right down the street -- someone´s radio was blasting The BeeGees "Help Me Mend My Broken Heart," and there was no one to see me but and old man with an enormous dog sitting in his lap. And in Irigui I shared a smile with a man coming home for lunch, covered in paint. He pulled up his car and sat still there for a moment, letting Stevie Ray Vaughn finish the last couple of licks of "Tightrope."
In the Witches´ Wood outside Roncesvalles the birds sing "We did." "We did." Down here in La Rioja they sing out suggestions to those quaffing lots of water: "Pee!" "Pee!"
Yesterday was a lucky day. In the lost & found box at the albergue in Navarette I found a brand-new pack towel with the price tags still on it... 31 Euro! Holy cow! Not many pilgrims at all, most of them bikers. I stopped to look over a beautiful vista of vineyards and realized how hypocritical and silly it si for me to yell about tourigrinos who don´t value what they have.
Because it was only when I was with these photo-snapping tourists that I noticed again the beauty of Viana´s back streets, and this orderly march of vines across the rolling field...Thousands of people come from all over the world to see these beauties, and I live among them. I don´t see them nearly as much as I ought to. They´ve become Everyday! Alas!
I looked again at the vines, and saw long lines of gnarled hands reaching out of the ground, like the vast, grasping cemetery zombie resurrection in a B horror movie. It would´ve creeped me out but for the muttering tractors and birdsong. An airplane overhead. And far off, over the vineyard, a radio carried the sweet sound of Nancy Sinatra. "These Boots are Made for Walkin." Yes indeed!
The Camino is aflutter with advertising flyers, most of them for albergues or cheap Camino jewelry. Graffitti from hippie conspiracy theorists and Gaia nature groups. So much silliness. I finally got to Najera, a town with lots of "ifs" built in. Back in 2001, I caught a bus from here to San Millan de Cogolla, a 20-km detour off the route to a pair of old mountain monasteries. It was fun, but the timing was bad -- there wasn´t a bus back in time, and I ended up hitching a ride back on a tractor. But lots of things can change in nine years. I felt San Millan calling my name, so I was ready to go there if things worked out. And ready to walk on by if they did not.
Long story short, I got into Najera 20 minutes before the Cogolla bus left. My guidebook said the only place to stay in San Millan is a four-star hotel built into the 16th century monastery, where rooms start at 100 Euro. I was ready to splurge if I had to, but I hoped a few other options had opened up by now... And again I was not disappointed. As I walked down the main street I saw the town now has several cute B&B kind of places. I pressed on to the huge monastic complex, which was closed for siesta. I went into the plush four-star place and asked if they had a single, and how much it would cost...
They have no singles, just doubles, the lady said. And there´s a special price promotion on: One person staying in a double pays only a single price: 50 Euros. Hooha! Jesus loves me!
I had an hour before the next bus left for the tiny cave church up the mountain. I opened the door to my room, and danced a very happy dance on my sore feet... it was marvellous. A big marble bathroom with a huge tub. Towels. A hair dryer. A minibar, with cold beer inside. And a huge wide window built into an arch, and a little terrace looking over the monastery garden and a babbling river and a range of snowy mountains marching off to the horizon. I could even see a couple of deer, way up there.
I took a hot bath. I trimmed my nails and moisturized. The music played "Begin the Beguine."
The afternoon continued with visits to both monasteries, (one dates back to the 6th century!) which I will write about some other time as a boy now needs to use this computer. It´s a lovely hotel in a beautiful setting, and me and Paddy need to come here together sometime again soon.
And then came the 10 km mountain trail north, to Santo Domingo, which I am halfway through hiking now. The mountains are full of barking deer and blooming little flowers and cuckoo cries. But the second half of the walk is asphalt, which kills the feet.
But I am happy anyway. All here on my own, climbing green mountains, sipping red wine, hardly thinking at all. Soon I will rejoin the regular camino, refreshed.