No Defecar! – Day 14 on the Camino

The town appeared to be a ghost town.

After so many days of passing through tiny pueblos which clutched faithfully around Churches, in spite of all apparent signs that the town was dying, it was quite clear that this place was decidedly . . . different.

The tiniest of pueblos always seemed to have a sense of unity, of community, because they all had some kind of plaza, town center, facing the Church, which was the most important building in town and the building of which the town was most proud and cared for most. The markets, the shops, the art, music, culture, all activities circled around the Church.

The Camino de Santiago de Campostella, being a path through Spain, goes from town to town. Medieval pilgrims would not be interested in beautiful scenery or great views of vineyards.  They needed to stay healthy and survive the rigorous and often treacherous trip through the mountains and fields. Towns were where  they would find food, clothing, shelter and would be able to recover from injuries and illness. 

The Camino makes a direct line from town center to town center.

To the plaza.

To the Church.

This town, however, seemed cold, lacking humanity. There were no signs of life, of human habitation.  No cars, no children’s’ toys, no dogs or cats.

Where was the Church? In other town, you could spot the steeples from a distance. But I couldn’t find one here. 

No farms, no shops, no cafes. No sound. 

There were houses, however. Nice, newly built homes, with front and back yards waiting for flowers and fountains, stone pathways and swings.

They all seemed deserted.

The only place that was occupied was the golf course. Entering town, I passed next to a beautiful green golf course. Water hazards and sand traps, well manicured with lovely swatches of trees and cart paths, designed to provide a wonderful afternoon on the greens. 

Cars pulled up to the clubhouse and people took golf bags and clubs out of their trunks, testing their swings, and entered. 

I had planned on spending the night in this town but it was too creepy. Too “Twilight Zone.”

Just before entering the town, when the golf course was just a suggestion, there was a small resting place for pilgrims provided by the town, as many towns along the Camino provide.

After a long walk, it was greatly appreciated. Yet, there was something unusual at this one. Something that should have tipped me off that this place was happy to have you here, but not too happy.

A welcome sign that really didn’t say welcome. And, realizing that the golf course property was on the other side of the fence of the resting area, it made perfectly good sense. What other sign could you put there for peregrinos? 

They do WHAT to a Chicken??? – Day 13 – Najera to Santo Domingo

The legend goes something like this:

A father, mother, and son were making a pilgrimage to Santiago. One night, they stopped in Santo Domingo for rest. The innkeeper had a daughter who took a fancy to the son, who was handsome and devout. He, being devout, rejected the advances of the daughter, who was not happy at being spurned.

She put some gold or jewels or something in the young man’s baggage and, the next morning, accused him of stealing. 

The local magistrate found the lad guilty and he was hung.

The father and mother, heart-broken, continued on their pilgrimage to Santiago, praying for their son. On their return trip, they walked near the same town. To their surprise, their son was hanging but still alive! They rushed to the local magistrate’s house, who was in the middle of dinner, and begged him to cut their son down, for he was still alive! The magistrate laughed at their request, saying that their son could no more be alive than the chicken which was on his plate for dinner.

At that moment, the chicken stood up and cackled. Amazed and recognizing a miracle, the magistrate ordered the young man cut down and the family lived happily ever after.

Since then, the church at Santo Domingo has been famous for the legend of the chicken. It is said to keep a live chicken because of this legend.

How do legends get out of hand?

A wet day made the trip to Santo Domingo boring and tiresome. Imagine my surprise to hear a marching band playing as I approached. My fellow pilgrim wondered what the music was about but excitedly remembered that she heard today was a special day at the church in Santo Domingo – they were going to do “something” with the chicken at Mass that night.

As a Catholic, I was curious as to what a priest would do with a chicken during Mass. I knew there were Masses where animals were blessed, but that was all I could think of. 

Sacrifice a chicken? Wasn’t that a voodoo thing? We don’t do that in the Roman Catholic Church, at least I had never heard of it, and I was pretty sure I would have heard if there was some kind of ritual where a chicken was killed during Mass.

No, no, no, something wasn’t right. But I was having a hard time convincing my companion of this.

The town was celebrating Corpus Christi, a major Catholic feast day. The whole town processed after a band and a colorful float, through the narrow street to the church. They walked over lovely murals made of grass and flowers which had been made on the pavement. After the band, float, and townspeople walked over the displays, children played with the grass and flowers and the street took on the colors of a lovely ticker tape parade.

The Mass at 8 p.m. was peaceful and serene, with not a cluck to be heard or a feather to be seen.

As Mass ended, I looked around at the beautiful interior. 

There, overhead, where a choir might be in another church, was a tiny lit apartment, bars in front. Did I see movement? Yes! I found the chicken!

It  turns out that the chicken is kept (probably more for the benefit of tourists than anything else) in the church in a sound proof room so as not to disturb Mass. In fact, the chickens (there are several, very pretty) take turns and live in the church for only a week, then are free to roam around, carefully attended to both in and out of the Church.

I realized that the chickens had better living conditions than I had in most of the albergues I had stayed in on the Camino.

My friend was not disappointed that there had been no slaughter.

Another misinterpretation of Catholic ritual was “laid” to rest.

Small, Unexpected Things – Day 12 – Navarette to Najera


Not too cold, though, so better days may be ahead.

There are not many interesting things coming up, so I prepare for a boring day ahead. About half a day in (3-4 hours), I hear an unusual sound behind me.

When I turn, I see the unexpected. A tour group . . . on horseback.

They are spread out over a distance, so it takes 15 minutes for all of them to pass me by, their ATV acting as their follow vehicle. Cheering and laughing together, they playfully pass me by, wishing me a buen camino, and goofing for the camera. I smile at their happiness and the joy they are getting from their trip. 

They pass, the road gets boring again, then, again, the unexpected.

The graffiti pilgrim poem, “Pilgrim, who calls you?” appears on the wall. Although it is in Spanish (also in German), the thoughts are clear and pensive. It is a place I had read about and am glad to see.

The albergue in Najera is full and noisy yet the volunteers are kind and patient. One of them shows his newest Campostella. He completed a Camino just a week ago, his fifth one! And here he is, sharing hospitality with we poor peregrinos. He is in his seventies.

I share a room (bottom bunk) with 90 of my closest friends. I long for peace and wifi. The hospitaleros send me to a bar around the corner which I make my home for the rest of the day, writing and sending blogs. 

The family that runs the bar is accommodating for a peregrina. Their daughter is about 8 years old.  I leave to wander the town, come to a candy store, and buy a forbidden-in-the-U.S. chocolate kinder egg for her. The parents are surprised and smile at my small token of appreciation.

The bar is quiet until about 1900,  when all Spain comes to life again. I get a meal to go and return to the albergue. I eat outside, the noise and crowd inside the albergue more disturbing to me than the overcast skies. 

The end of another day.

I Get Crepes and Sleep with Seven Men – Day 11 – Viana to Navarette

The rain had pushed everyone apart from each other. Everyone was walking their own Camino. One foot in front of the other.

I walked past an old hospital for pelegrinos. 

The word “hospital” takes on a different meaning here. It relates to the word “hospitality,” rather than to the place we think of as the place for sick people. The medieval hospital was the place where the pilgrims would be welcomed, given a place to rest and have injuries attended to. it was a place of healing, for sure, but in a larger sense. 

Today’s local volunteers who staff the municipal albergues, the places where we pilgrims rest, wash, eat, sleep, are called “hospitaleros” as a fine tribute to their ancient origins.

As I walk past that old hospital, now just a ruin, I think of that medieval pilgrim, as wet and tired as I, and understand the relief and gladness he felt as he walked over the final crest of that hill and saw the old stone hospital. I flew back in time a thousand years and understood his experience.

When I arrived at Navarette, Marcel, French volunteer hospitalero at the municipal albergue, greeted me as if he had been waiting for me. Would I like an upper bunk or would I like the attic? 

The attic sounded good, so I and the gentleman who had also just checked in made our way up the final flight of steps to the attic.

Clean, bright, and no bunk beds, it was a nice quiet place to rest, especially when compared to the relative crowd and noise of the lower floors.

Marcel prepared crepes for all the pilgrims. This was his gift to all. Free and delicious, it was the first time I’d been treated by the volunteers. The aroma floated through the albergue and soon the dining room was full of hungry and grateful pilgrims anxious to enjoy a treat.

That night, I made my way up to the attic. I found that there were now seven men in the room with me. 

I felt like Snow White.

We were all tired and preparing for the next day and soon most were asleep.

Then, the fun began.

The gentleman who had come upstairs with me at first was a slight, quiet, unassuming man who spent most of his time reading on his cot while most were downstairs talking. 

At bedtime, he told me that he snored and he was going to move to a bed on the other side of the attic, which I thought was very thoughtful of him. 

I settled in for a good night’s sleep.

If you have ever heard of the UK version of “American Idol,” then you may have heard of Susan Boyle. She was the mousey looking, unassuming woman whose voice suddenly took the musical world by storm. What an amazing sound from such a timid looking person!

It turns out that the mousey looking man who kept to himself and moved to the other side of the attic because he snored was the Susan Boyle of the snoring world.

When he fell asleep, this amazing sound came from his mouth. Loud, deep, a full-throated basso profundo, he was the Maestro of snorers. The other six men unconsciously followed his lead in snoring but were certainly his supporting orchestra members. It was his sonata.

 It was the first time I tried earplugs, which did not work. From the other side of the attic, the closets and windows seemed to suck in and out and rattle, like in a cartoon, as he began his night music.

Literally hours later, he stopped snoring. Was he dead? I didn’t care. I would get a bit of sleep before the ambulance came, I thought to myself, and finally fell asleep.

I’m an Angel Because I Have Duct Tape – Day 10 – Los Arcos to Viana

Usually, the rain has the decency to wait until I have been on the road a few minutes before starting the daily downpour but today it begins before I wake up. 


Trudging through the mud, I wonder for a few moments if my legs are getting stronger because the load on my pack seems normal and my strides are more certain. But the wind starts blowing against me and I begin the daily struggle to make progress on the muddy track.

The Camino never goes around a mountain it can go over. Up and down, sliding down rocky hills, always wet. Repeat, repeat.

Then, up ahead, I see a young man on the side of the road sitting on a rock. As I get closer, I see he is wrapping thin athletic tape around his hiking pole. 

Are you OK? Do you need something? 

Usually the answer is that there is no problem, someone is just adjusting their poncho or tying their shoelaces.

This time, the young man looks at me and says yes, he is having a problem. His hiking pole has stopped telescoping and he can’t use it anymore.

Since you, dear reader, have probably never used a hiking pole, let me give you a short course on the virtues of hiking poles.

They saved my Camino more times than I can count in the first week alone. In Germany, you see them  used  mainly by old people, striding confidently along in a public park. Or on a public trail. occasionally on the sidewalk. But the important phrase here is, “old people.”

Therefore, most young people tend to shy away from these simple sticks (or high-speed high-tech sticks).

They soon learn that not using hiking poles can be a big mistake.

Maximilian, a strapping young man ready to enter the Academy, found out that using poles would reduce the intense pain in his knees caused by going down the endless and slippery paths on the Camino. He was lucky – his knees were recovering because he bought poles shortly after feeling the never-ending ache in his knees.

Now, one of his poles had died on him, too early, and he was trying desperately to give it some new life until he could replace it in the next town.

In the last minute preparation for my Camino, DH had wrapped a length of duct tape around a golf pencil and we had added it to my pack. Now, like my Voltaren, it would be called to serve.

Using my most used accessory, the little baby fingernail scissors, we carefully wrap and cut a length of duct tape which repairs his hiking pole.

He calls me his Camino Angel.

Thank you, DH.

I Find the Fountain of Wine  – Day 9 – Estella to Los Arcos

Since I am in a hotel, I do not have to be out the door by 0800. I can stay late. 

But a voice woke me up.

” Get up! Let’s go! I have something wonderful for you!”

My clock said it was 0615 and my alarm was set for 0715.

Nope. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

“No! Get up! The sun is out. It is dry now. Let’s go.”

When the Voice calls you, it will not be quieted. So I got up, got packed, and had coffee at the same cafe one last time. The clouds were very threatening and the wind was cold and strong. 

The wine fountain would be very welcoming.

The region of Irache is very proud of its wine and offers a special treat for peregrinos – the wine fountain! 

There are two spigots – one wine, one water – coming from the wall of the bodega, which is the wine cellar. Since this was the main wine cooperative for the region, the wine cellar was huge.  If you want water, go for it, but for true indulgence, the wine fountain is for you. On the side of the city wine center, right on the Camino, pilgrims may pour themselves a glass of wine to quench their thirst.

And, of course, pose in all kind of silly poses. 

Was the wine good? Who knows! It was 0845! But it was free, it was flowing, and everyone there suddenly became in a party mood. 

I dumped my water from my bottle, tried a sample, then filled the bottle with a bit of wine and alot of water. I packed and continued on the Camino. 

A Lovely, Dry, Day – Day 8 – Estella

Everything about this day in the little town of Estella was nice. 

I woke at about 8 a.m. and found the hospitaleria sending people on their way and talking to her friend, who was taking her child to school. I asked where the washing machine was and her friend excitedly began to talk to me. She ran a laundry and would be happy to do my laundry for me. I thought about the pile of muddy, dirty clothes on the floor and realized that if she charged me $100, it would still be worth it, and soon had one less thing to worry about.

I found the post office and mailed some items home which I found were not needed – rain pants, a plate, a hiking skirt, some cord.

I found a place to get a SIM card for my phone. I found a cash machine. 

I returned to yesterday’s cafe and had a morning cup of coffee and a croissant.

I am noticing subtle (and not so subtle) differences between my North American life and this wonderful European lifestyle. Even the tiniest, medieval, cobblestoned town has a public library with wi-fi for the students. The library in Estrella is quiet, tranquil, and well planned.

On the way to the library, I had to go through a narrow street where an ambulance was blocking traffic because someone needed help. I stood and watched for a while, observing how the local services handled an emergency (quite well, by the way).

After a few minutes, I observed something more.

The street was narrow, as I said before, and people were shopping, pushing strollers, moving to work, etc. Many simply walked around the ambulance and the EMT’s allowed people to move as needed. They did not block the sidewalk or try to keep people out of their way. 

Of course, people did keep out of their way. People understood and felt sympathy. Many pedestrians did stand around and watch the scene. But those who were watching were talking to each other. 

No one pulled out a cell phone and took pictures.

This struck me as different. I think people in the U.S. would transport their friends to the scene through the magic of technology. And they probably would not talk to other observers. 

Here, no one was taking photos or videos. But all who were talking were talking to their neighbor. 

I popped into a free art exhibit in the old castle. My laundry was returned clean, fresh, and folded (sadly, this condition would last exactly one day). 

I had a “pilgrim menu” of green vegetables which had had the h*ll cooked out of them until they resembled soup more than fresh vegs, a delicious half of a roasted chicken, french fries (standard for pilgrim menus), some dessert, and an entire bottle of wine for myself. I asked the waiter if I could take the rest of the bottle back to my hotel and, with a bit of reluctance but then giving in, he said O.K.

It had been a good day. I only hoped I could figure out how to manage my blisters because I was sure the next day would be another rainy one.