There’s a skimpy forest on the way out of Viana and out of Navarre. It just looks like a bad haircut on its small nob of ground, but enjoy it. As you cross through the vines of the Rioja then pass on to the meseta you won’t be seeing many more trees.
Maybe this is a good point at which to explain my own way of getting along. Excuse the frequent use of the first person – though, since the Obama autobiography, the smart set say it’s now a stylistic merit, much less evasive than all those indefinite and passive constructions.
So many accounts of the Camino concern fatigue and difficulty, physical suffering, hard nights in crowded albergues, tough schedules…before a triumphant, exhilarating conclusion in Santiago.
Back when there was little choice but to do big miles and overcome pain and exhaustion, pilgrims did it very hard. I understand the desire of many people to reproduce a little of that spirit. One couple I encountered at dinner on the Camino Portugues showed me an extract from the John Brierley guide where the author collapses at the foot of a crucifix, arms outstretched as if he himself were crucified by fatigue. When asked for my opinion of the extract, I could only shrug and shovel another mouthful of food.
It’s not that I don’t get it, or that I don’t approve of it. I just don’t do it. It’s like smoking or growing face hair. It just never occurs to me to do it.
I travel in cool weather because I can’t handle heat and crowds. Being what you might call a sociable solitary, I love walking, chatting and eating with people, but can’t handle dormitory conditions and, above all, snoring. I’m too embarrassed to make my own noises at night in shared accommodation. I don’t like leaving early because I’m not madrugador by nature and because I don’t have far to go each day.
I don’t get all that tired, because I rest a lot and eat a lot. I only carry extra weight so I can have extra comforts at night and on waking…especially many varieties of tea prepared on my trusty Trangia Mini.
I wear oversize shoes with Superfeet insoles, silk liners which are kept a little greasy, and thick hikers. Saves me the pain of blisters and the trouble of applying lotions.
I leave Australia for around ninety days. I thus have time for everything, including double rest days, and even staggered triples (eg two rest days in Ponferrada, then two in Cacabeles, just a few kilometres away.)
The only proviso: it helps to be a bit fit and capable of covering thirty kilometres, even if you never do it. The need arose for me twice between Pamplona and Santiago, as I’ll describe further on.
I mostly stay in modest hotels and pensions, though I had a couple of truly joyful nights in albergues which I’ll also describe, along with their wonderful hospitaleros, who are the key to a good stay. If only the human species was not given to snoring, I’d love to do more albergues, eat improvised dinners and engage in silly before-bed talk about Templar curses or the Mayan calendar. But people snore!
When I get to Santiago, I don’t feel much, and don’t expect to feel much. Why would I? I’ve been fairly loafing.
But I am of good cheer.
So, that’s how I walk my Camino.
Today we leave Navarre and enter the Rioja, a name instantly associated with wine. Indeed, it is carpeted with vines, but the first striking sight along the Camino in this region is its capital, Logroño.
The regional centres of Spain tend to be fun. Just the right size, and thronged with bar-goers and promenaders of all ages. My favourite of all is Pontevedra, along the Camino Portugues, but Logroño will do nicely for a rest and some gorging.
It’s on the Ebro, spanned by a famous stone bridge, it’s full of handsome architecture…and it’s a place for serious eating. Taperias and restaurants are full even in winter, and there is at least one pulperia, a forestaste of Galicia.
My favourite feature is experienced on leaving the city along the Camino. For now, here’s a photo gallery, which includes the famous rosquillas, donuts with an odd aniseed icing for which I acquired a taste.
Replicas of The Burghers of Calais were on display in the plaza outside the cathedral. I feel it’s a distortion or false economy to scatter the figures about the place, rather than group them as intended.
Still, some Rodins in the winter drizzle were a fine sight.
There was also a replica of The Thinker, keeping his distance from those smelly losers surrendering their city.