Today, I did a full “Brierly stage”. Brierly is the man who wrote the “practical and spiritual” guidebook I’m using and about 60% of the English-speaking people I meet are following his suggested stages, which allow you to complete the Camino in 33 days (one for each year of the life of Christ, because that’s how this man makes travel decisions. I wonder if he goes on 3-day city breaks to Brussels with each day marking one of the nails used to crucify Christ, or maybe he goes on 2-night romantic breaks to Rome to symbolise the number of nights Christ lay in the tomb before he was resurrected.) Each of his stages is between 20 and 30 kilometres.
I had done two days where I walked over 20 kilometres already, but not with a starting or ending point suggested by Brierly. I wanted to do one of his stages, just to prove to myself I could.
I started in Nájera at about 8:00, stopping at a bar for breakfast. I walked to Azofra, about 6 km away on a mainly flat road. It was pleasant agricultural land, and the morning walks are always the easiest. I start every walk by listening to “Ease on Down the Road” by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson from The Wiz. It’s the perfect start to a day’s walking and it puts a spring in my step.
I was clearly following a path that cows had been on earlier. Cows are remarkably incontinent. Even little babies seem to poo more discriminately. A group of cows can’t seem to go anywhere without leaving a river of poo behind them. Ideal for when you’re walking in sandals.
I stopped for a short break in Azofra, making sure I had loads of water for the next stage of the trip. It was 9 kilometres without a stop. The sun was high in the sky and there wasn’t a single cloud about.
This was the steepest uphill walk in days. And it was a long hill. I was going uphill for at least three hours. And there was no shade anywhere. I used my two litres of water fairly quickly and sweated it all out again almost immediately. And there was nowhere to take a break. Not a single bench on the side of the track, and no big rocks either. Other walkers were throwing themselves down on the grass for breaks, but I can’t. Or rather I can get down onto the ground, but I can’t lever my body weight up again. So while all the fit and skinny people had their breaks on the ground, I just paused and leaned on my walking stick.
My walking stick got a lot of use today. In fact, I got a blister on my hand from using it, to add to my long list of injuries.
The three-hour hill finally ended. And at the top, there was a picnic area. Benches! And a water fountain! I think this was the happiest I’ve been since the start of the Camino as I collapsed onto a bench there. I drank water from the fountain so fast that I hurt my throat. As I was sitting there, a skinny man and woman arrived at the top of the hill, looking exhausted. (Note: For me, skinny includes anyone who is thin enough to buy clothes in a high street store. My blog, my definitions of words.) The man threw himself on the ground dramatically, while the woman gulped down water.
They were from New Zealand. His name was Jay and hers was Ka. Seriously, those were their names. Like they met at an alphabet party or something. The reason the man was so exhausted was because he’d tried running up part of the hill before he realised quite how long and how steep it was. They ate some vitamin jelly cubes and discussed how they would get some protein in before the end of the day. Some people are really planning how to maximise nutrition to help them walk longer. I’m mainly surviving on fizzy drinks, Spanish omelettes and bread.
I rested quite a long time in the picnic area. The next town was only about a kilometre further and was easily the most depressing town of the Camino so far. Cirueña didn’t appear to have any old buildings at all. I think it was basically the Spanish version of a ghost estate, a town built just before the economic crash. There were modern houses everywhere, most of them for sale, and lots of unfinished houses too, with no discernible works going on, a huge abandoned building site. I stopped, not in a typical Spanish bar or café, but in the modern golf course clubhouse, as this appeared to be the only business open in town, besides the pilgrim hostel. I didn’t stay very long.
It was now 4:45 pm. I was zonked, but I had promised myself that I would do a “Brierly Stage”. Brierly informed me that the next part of the walk would be “gently undulating”. Gently my arse. More hills to climb.
It wasn’t that long before Santo Domingo came into view at the foot of the hills. Unfortunately, the longer I walked, it didn’t seem to get any closer. The sun was still beating down. No clouds and no shade for 12 hours. I was very good about re-applying sun cream, but of course the sun found a new spot to burn me on. So far, all of the worst of my burns have been on my left side, because I’m walking East to West every day and the sun is in the south, on my left-hand side. Today, somehow, my right calf got the brunt of the sun. I thought I’d put on cream there. Obviously not enough. I’m covered in Aloe Vera now, recovering.
I eventually reached Santo Domingo. I had to walk through industrial estates before reaching the actual town, so I had that awful feeling of thinking I was finished walking, only to discover that still had at least another kilometre to go. The first bench I saw in the town, I sat down. I knew I should be looking for accommodation, but I just couldn’t. I sat for 45 minutes and began to recover. Those hills really do take it out of you. While I was sitting there, an ambulance pulled up beside me and a man jumped out. Did I really look that bad? Of course, the ambulance wasn’t for me.
It was after 8:00 pm when I arrived at the hostel. It’s enormous. It’s run by the Confraternity of St James, who are the people who are “in charge” of the Camino. They put up the arrows and signs we follow. They organise pilgrims’ masses. They work to improve dangerous parts of the route. They run the Camino passport system, which entitles you to stay in cheap pilgrim hostels and to receive your certificate at the end of your journey, if you finish. This hostel is impressive, well-designed and only €7 a night. They had filled all the downstairs dormitories when I arrived, so they opened the upstairs for me. I’m in a room of about 20 bunks, all for me! It’s wonderful.
However, they’re very serious here and they turn off the wifi at 10:00 pm. For Jesus or something. So I can write this post, but I can’t put it online till the morning, which is exactly what I’ll do. See you all in the morning!