Navarrete to Najera.
Day 2 on The Camino
It rained and then the sun came out.
Some nights of sleep are so bad that you are just relieved to wake up and it be morning, so you don’t have to think about trying to go to sleep anymore. That’s how I felt when the light trickled in through the window of our little room.
We quickly packed up and went downstairs for coffee and a quick breakfast.
A few folks came and went as we ate, everyone sending well wishes,
We finished up and said goodbye to our host, who was perhaps a bit sleepy. I was amazed he was up to greet us at all after his late night, but he cheerfully sent us off. We were the last to go, which would become a habit of ours.
It was cloudy and cold, but not raining yet, so we left without pulling our rain covers over our backpacks.
We walked back through the little town of Navarrete, now our fourth time after all of the previous day’s wanderings. Before we’d gone ten minutes, it started to rain. So we stopped and dug out the rain covers, promising we’d just put them on preemptively from now on. Live and learn.
Now we were ready. Onward into the rain we went from Navarrete to Najera.
As the buildings of the town receded behind us, we lost any cover from the rain and began to feel it full in our faces. Heads down, we marched on through the morning.
I considered that perhaps I had not fully appreciated our first day of walking. I started to doubt my planning: Maybe we should have walked further yesterday while it was prettier. Maybe we won’t make it quite 18 kilometers today. Maybe Kandace is going to wish she had never met me…
The rain was not terribly hard, just a consistent drizzle, but after a while, it began to soak through our clothes. The drips off the bottoms of my pants fell into the tops of my boots. It’s funny how even if you have waterproof boots, they don’t really stay dry when rain pours into them from the top. I remarked to Kandace that I had left behind two pairs of gaiters that I used for walking through wet Scotland. Why had I thought them unnecessary for this trip? I had pulled them out and thought they were overkill. And also rain pants. I had thought rain resistant hiking trousers would be plenty.
After I’d exhausted all the should haves and could haves, I settled into just taking step after step, finding a rhythm of walking, walking, walking.
Remembering that the only thing to do is to take the next step.
And then the next one.
And the next one after that.
Soon enough we came to the next little village and without even having to speak we both headed straight for the open cafe at the edge of town. Already those who had left before us were warming themselves up inside, and we quickly threw off wet jackets and layers to join them.
We ordered coffee and croissants, and suddenly all was well with the world. Everytime I sit down in one of these little cafes, I think: Well, this is perfect. I could just sit here all day.
And we did sit there for a long time. We watched others go, and still others come and go, and then the rain stopped so we pulled our packs back on and headed out as well.
Oh, what a delight to walk in the sunshine after a morning of rain!
We walked and talked and laughed. After the town, the trail went through more vineyards. Again, the vines were so gorgeous. We might have tasted a grape or two. We picked up our pace a little in the afternoon, as we began to see Najera from a distance.
Whenever I am hiking, as soon as I spot a town, I tend to make the mistake of thinking that I am almost there. I think it’s my basic lack of aptitude for math that makes me so bad at depth perception.
But I get this little boost of energy when I start to think I’m getting close, and I am almost always tricked by it. This becomes apparent after an hour passes and the town seems hardly any closer. And then another hour passes and I can’t see the town anymore because I’ve lost the long view.
Still, eventually we came to the edge of town. I was long past beginning to feel the lack of sleep from the night before, so we stopped in the first bar we saw to find some sustenance.
Lucky for us both, we didn’t quite realize how much bigger Najera was than Navarrete and that we still had quite a bit of street walking to get through before we reached the old town and the cathedral.
We had a gorgeous lunch of leeks and spicy, fried potatoes and other warm foods that were probably mediocre, but actually tasted like heaven because we were Oh. So. Hungry.
We ran into a couple who had been at dinner with us the night before. They were finishing up their lunch when we arrived and planning to walk on through Najera to the next town, Azofra, which was 6 kilometers further.
Marion, who had walked the entire Camino back in the summer, said there was an albergue she particularly loved in the next town. She said there was a fountain were you could soak your feet. I asked if it was like a hot spring and she said, oh no, that you need cold water to soak your feet. Yes, of course, I said, but I thought Oh no.
It was freezing outside. There was no way I would be putting my feet in a cold fountain. Y’all enjoy that!
We wished them well and imagined that was the last we would see of them, because we were stopping in Najera and they would be starting well ahead of us tomorrow.
After lunch, we drug ourselves back outside and started the long walk through town. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that second beer, I laughed. We had several kilometers to go before we crossed a bridge into the older part of Najera, but I was just glad we weren’t trying to go 6 more after that!
Soon we came to the cathedral and convent, so we went inside. A kind lady in the gift shop sold us a discounted ticket to see the convent and told us we could leave our backpacks with her. She also gave us each a small picture of a saint, presumably the one for which this cathedral was named.
We walked around the convent dazed and happy to have made it to the end of our day’s walking. Neither of us could imagine going one kilometer more. It was a beautiful church and we both took a minute to sit and enjoy the quiet expanse of the space. I have made somewhat of a Camino tradition of stopping in the church at the end of the day to spend some time in quiet gratitude for the steps behind me. And to bless the steps ahead.
After our time in the cathedral, we asked for directions to the municipal albergue. I had told Kandace that I really wanted to try out the albergues that were connected to the churches at some point. They are usually the most basic (and cheapest), and I think I had it in my head that perhaps they attract the most pious pilgrims. I’m not sure that this is true or where I even got this idea.
We followed the directions and soon were at the door of the pilgrim’s albergue. We rang the bell and a volunteer opened the door and asked us where we were from. The US!
We always said this with smiles and laughs. He said he was sorry but there was no room for us.
Then Kandace said that she lived in France, so actually she was from France. The volunteer was also from France, so he said that yes, he had two places for us if we were French.
Of course, he was kidding all along, but you would never have known that from his straight face. This was the first time, but certainly not the last, we were jokingly turned away from an albergue because we were American. Clearly, we have a reputation y’all. And I don’t think it’s a good one. (Yikes.) However, the other volunteer at the desk who checked us in was American. So she explained how everything at the albergue worked.
The front desk was in a common room full of tables where people were sitting and chatting, and there was a kitchen just off the common room. Between the desk and the kitchen was a hallway to the bunkroom where about 50 bunk beds lined the walls and filled a middle row. Kandace and I picked two bunk beds that were pushed together and claimed the bottom bunks. Actually, we almost never encountered an albergue that was so full that people had to use the top bunks. In fact, everywhere we stayed, we said to each other, can you IMAGINE what this place would be like if it was full?
There were two men’s showers and two women’s showers, which was standard for most of the places we stayed, and we felt like we had PLENTY of people to share those with already.
While we were checking in, our hostess introduced us to the only other American we met on our entire trip. Rohit was as excited to meet us as we were to meet him. We shared an Arkansas connection. At one point he’d worked for Wal-mart and lived in Northwest Arkansas. He’d been walking from St Jean and hadn’t been around many other English speakers.
We decided to find a nearby restaurant and all have dinner together, where we talked and talked about some of my very favorite things: spiritual journeys, meditation, favorite authors and walking the Camino. It was delightful, as was dinner. I had a garlic soup that was so yummy and salad, and of course, flan. Little custards with caramel sauce were the most often served dessert on the Camino. I appreciated that they were small and not terribly sweet, but they were rich (probably made with cream). At one point, after eating several of them, Kandace told me that she didn’t really like flan and wasn’t sure why she kept ordering it. The other option seemed to be a cup of yogurt, which isn’t really that much different, so flan it was.
We finished our meal and drained the bottles of wine before meandering back to the albergue. We had been warned that the doors locked at 10 and we wouldn’t be able to get inside after that, so we were watching the clock. It was around 9:30 when we came back and lots of folks were standing around outside smoking one last cigarette. Among the group were three bikers from Italy who we asked a little about their experience of biking the Camino and if they were preferring it to walking. They said that actually they felt the bad weather even more on the bikes, which made sense when I thought about it. I guess you would get the miles done faster but perhaps be more miserable, especially in the wind. They were all pushing on a bit further than us the next day, so we wished them well.
I headed to bed and Kandace stayed outside to call her husband. She ended up being shooed inside after 10pm by the same gentleman who’d joked that he didn’t have a place for American pilgrims. When she came to bed, we laughed about it, which was also funny because we were RIGHT UP NEXT to all the other people. So we were trying to silent laugh, which never works.
You could already hear people snoring and I thought, I’m never going to sleep tonight. But actually I felt super cozy, safe and warm in our little bottom bunk haven. Maybe it was because I was exhausted from the night before, but I rolled over and went right to sleep. It might have been my best night of sleep on the whole Camino.