Our evening in Navarrete was lovely, however, sleep was a bit challenging. Our location on a main street brought a lot of noise late into the evening, it was really warm in our room, and a street light positioned just outside our window conspired to make sleep elusive. The Spanish evening schedule is not peregrino friendly – late dinners keep everyone up later and we’ve noticed the locals can be quite social well past the point when we are ready to go to sleep.
I found a nice little bar to start the morning. The proprietor made the extra effort to correct several of my pronunciations of Spanish words; I’ve begun to realize that some of my language struggles are that my Latin American Spanish uses some words and pronunciations that are used or pronounced differently in Spain. This explains some of the blank looks I get when I feel like I’m making a solid effort. I’m still not convinced that my efforts are appreciated – I receive equal disdain for both my Spanish language butchery and when I unapologetically speak English.
The evening before, we did a quick tour of the Church of the Assumption and decided to return this morning. This 16th century beauty is my favorite yet. The massive, gold altarpiece stretches to the ceiling of the church and is beautifully ornate. Every corner of the church had another statue or shrine and it is clear that the artist was telling many stories as the space was designed. The “retablo” or altarpiece in the photo includes statues of the saints, Mary, Jesus, and the Father. Angels are depicted with Saint Michael prominent and every church we’ve seen along the way includes a statue of St. James. I am not certain what it was about this particular church that I felt was more impactful than the ones we’ve seen before but it struck me a little differently.
On the way out of town, we saw Katie talking to Nathan and bid them a “Buen Camino!” making our way through the village streets and leaving the town for the countryside. As we entered more fields of vines, Nathan caught up to us. We talked briefly about Queensland, Australia. I told him about my sister and her husband living in Sydney – Nathan lived in Sydney for a number of years. He was friendly and unhurried. He was also totally Australian, accent, mannerisms, and all. I say that with affection. By the time the sun hit him, he had removed his jacket to reveal a muscle shirt underneath – not a style we’ve seen much of on the Camino and his hat was totally Crocodile Dundee. He carried two walking sticks that were oversized and looked like he had torn them directly from a tree. He just felt that the manufactured sticks were too flimsy. We talked briefly about dangerous snakes and our joy to know it was not an issue in Spain. He wasn’t sure how far he’d go today but knew he needed to get to the next village for his coffee. We watched him march off with the big sticks swinging down the path. G’day mate!
The plan was for a shorter walk today to align with the traditional segments of the Way and spend the night in Najera. The thought of a shorter walk lifted our spirits and we made our way through the vineyards. Here, we started to see grapes that appeared to be nearly ready for harvest. The landscape did remind us a bit of Napa and we enjoyed a horizon of vineyards and hills throughout the day.
We caught up to Nathan and a few other peregrinos in a village called Ventosa. It was still early for lunch so we enjoyed a Coke and watched a couple of peregrinos place with a kitten they appeared to have adopted along the way. We had seen the woman alone a few times about a week ago and it seemed she had made a friend. I personally don’t care to see animals in the cafe but no one else seemed troubled. i suppose the cat is no more of an issue than the every present flies who seem to derive pleasure in assaulting one’s ears or eyes our of sheer spite. I figured it must be our special aroma de Camino that captivates them. Katie from Colorado caught up with us shortly and stopped by our table for a moment. This will likely be her last appearance in the story as she has 27 days to complete the 33 day Camino. Though she commended our slower, more enjoyable pace, I suspect that the marathon runner would be disappointed if she took it any slower.
Perhaps it was our mindset that today was an “easier” day or maybe we were just tired from a restless night before. Whatever the case, the remaining 10km into Najera seemed to take forever. When we arrived on the outskirts of town, my feet were really aching and I felt drained. One of the recurring themes of our arrivals has been that we see the village or get to its outskirts only to have an excruciatingly long walk to our final destination. In this case, the medieval part of Najera was on the opposite side of town and I literally limped into the Hotel Duques de Najera, a nicely renovated facility that catered to pilgrims – including a 10 euro laundry service that brought us both extreme joy. I realized how well they knew their target audience when I saw a cabinet of gels and lotions for rubbing on aching feet and muscles.
Najera has a fascinating history as the Capital of the Kingdom of Navarre in the 11th and 12th centuries. The town literally butts up against a rocky hillside with caves. The Monasterio Santa Maria de Real is built up against the side of hill and the cave where legend has it that Sancho the Great found the statue of the Virgin Mary, thereby marking this place as Holy and important. We made our way around the village streets – naturally during siesta when everything is closed. However, we found a moment to play in a little courtyard near the monastery.
We attended Mass that evening at the Church of Santa Cruz where we received a special pilgrims blessing and the opportunity to ring the Bell of Santiago. Afterwards we were herded (by a very assertive 4 foot tall womanI) into the sacristy and given a blessing by the priest. It was a special close to a great day!
Tomorrow, on to Santo Domingo!