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Azofra, Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Granon, pilgrimage, Spain

September 10th, Day 9: Azofra to Granon


I wake up in the middle of the night in Azofra and look out the window. This is an old albergue and an even older village. I peek out the window, and the house where the old people sat earlier in the evening is visible from my bunk. My eyes are playing tricks on me, and it looks like a pilgrim is sitting there now. I squint, and realize it’s a hydrangea bush. Apparently, the after effects of all the vino tinto have not yet worn off. I fall back asleep.

I wake up feeling more rested than expected. The high of our 37km day and the fun from the previous night prevents any kind of hangover from setting in. We head back to Bar Seville for breakfast, and feel like we literally just closed the place down. Pico’s colleague is working and gets us grande cafe con leches and croissants. We leave Azofra around 9 a.m.

Vineyards outside of Azofra.

It’s a pretty walk out of town, but we’re quickly parallel to a main highway and spend the majority of the morning next to it. Gill and Ramon walk ahead and before lunch Tammy, Lynne and I walk separately for a bit, but the five of us reconvene for lunch in Santo Domingo. We meet a man from Paris, who is on his way back from Santiago. His walking partner is a donkey that sits patiently nearby while he finishes his lunch. He tells us of the bond he has formed with this animal on his long journey to and from Santiago.

A church in the main square of Santa Domingo.
Santa Domingo

The others push on after lunch and I hang back to take a few photographs in town. It is hot and dry when I leave, but the wind is picking up and in the distance, the skies are black and threatening. I have another 7 km to go to Granon. I head out of town and catch up with Tammy. In the distance, Gill is waiting for us.

The three of us head out of town, and Tammy drops behind. Gill and I are walking along and see graffiti on the side of the way. Someone has written, “Why are you walking?” We don’t get into the specifics of why we are both walking the Camino – I don’t think I can even articulate at this point in time why I’ve been drawn to do this. I wonder if Gill will share his reasons with me, but we talk around it, unconsciously, but we both note how there are a lot of people walking with the hopes of some kind of epiphany along the way, or once they reach Santiago.

Heavy skies en route to Granon
‘Why are you walking?’

We discuss life. I share my past four years of adventure with Gill and my decisions to leave New York, pick up and travel the world and how fulfilled I have been by these choices. Gill tells me of his travels in his early 20s, his days of basking for money throughout Europe and his eventual choices to settle down. I feel like I’ve met a kindred spirit twenty years my senior.

Gill tells me I need a framework moving forward, that I can’t just travel for the rest of my life. It’s not reality, he says. This, coming from a fellow traveler, surprises me. “Sure I can,” I say, getting defensive, and stating that my reality won’t be the status quo of conforming to society’s expectations, and being chained to a desk job. We compromise and decide there’s a balance between those two. But something stirs. And I’m starting to feel flat.

Tammy arrives twenty minutes later and I can tell she feels as rough as I do. Our long day yesterday, today’s walk, fatigue, physical pain and a hangover have all caught up with us. We check into the donativo in town and it turns cool and cloudy.

Tanya from Germany is volunteering here and her energy is bright and warm. I want to make an effort to put on a happy face when I meet her and match her disposition, but my energy is zero. She welcomes me in nonetheless, and does not seem to judge. A past pilgrim herself, she knows the highs and lows of days on the Camino.

We set up our sleep sheets on the floor in the church below and I manage to get the last shower. Literally, as I’m rinsing off, the shower nozzle runs dry. It’s not until later that evening that it comes back on and I’m so thankful, as there was no shower in the albergue last night after 37km in 85 degree heat.

The sleeping area in the donativo.

We attend Mass before dinner. The church is gray, dark and cool, and pilgrims shuffle in to sit in two rows of pews. The short service is entirely in Spanish and includes a pilgrim’s blessing. At the end, people file out, and I sit, lean forward to the edge of the pew, and put my head on the back of the pew in front of me. Tears prick my eyes. tears of fatigue, physical pain and heavy conversations, but the tears go as quickly as they came.

We head to dinner in the kitchen above the church. There’s a large group of maybe 30 people or more – a combination of new and old faces. I am enjoying the concept of the donativo. The accommodation is based on a donation basis. Pilgrims are provided with a place to sleep, dinner, usually some type of service (church related or something led by the volunteers), and breakfast. I sense more of a spiritual camaraderie in the donativo, compared to the other albergues I have stayed in along the way so far.

I sit across from Martina, a beautiful older woman from Sweden, who is doing her second Camino. She tells me how her first Camino was full of tears, that she cried everyday, but this one has been her fun Camino, and that she is laughing everyday instead.

We finish dinner and Tanya explains how we will all help to clean up. She places two big bowls of washing up and rinsing water on the table, and everything is systematically handed down the table, washed, rinsed and dried.

The group heads out for vino tinto, and I crawl into my sleep sheet and cover myself with a heavy wool blanket. My body, brain and spirit need rest tonight.

Azofra, Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Logrono, pilgrimage, Spain

September 9th, Day 8: Logrono to Azofra: We Cross Too Many Rivers Without Touching the Water

The path leaving Logrono.

I have plans to meet Tammy and Gill at 6:45 on the outskirts of town so we can walk together. I stand outside my albergue until 7:10 and wait for them to pass. I fear I’ve missed them and send an email asking them to let let me know where they end up for the day. I start walking but don’t get far. At the end of the road, they are walking down a perpendicular street, towards me.

We head to a small cafe for a cortado and attempt to make arrangements for somewhere to sleep for the night. The camino is busy and everyone seems to be heading to Najera today but we are unable to get through to any of the albergues. I’m not too terribly concerned. Despite not having a bed the other night, I feel as if booking ahead sort of takes away from the spontaneity of the Camino. Even though I have a general idea of where I may stop at night when I start out in the morning, I never know if I may want to stop sooner because I like the feel of a place, or if I will have the energy to keep going.

We head out and on the outskirts of town, Gill, Tammy and I run into Ramon and Lynne. They are the couple I have been crossing paths with over the past few days, but have yet to talk to. They all know each other though, from Sansol, and I am introduced and we link up and leave town together.

It’s a beautiful morning walk out of town on a flat path lined with cypress trees, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. I’m reminded of a message I received from a former colleague before starting on the Camino. She told me to look look at the sky everyday because it’s bluer on the Camino than anywhere else she has ever seen. She is right. The sky is a vivid blue. We share the path with locals out running, biking and walking their dogs. Everyone we pass wishes us a buen camino.

Free fruit and snacks provided by this kind man.

We come upon a large lake, make a right and we’re back in wine country. Not long after this, we pass a small wooden shack, where a man with long white hair sits. He has set up an offering for pilgrims- oranges, biscuits and camino shells. He asks for nothing in return for what he’s providing. We stop and have a small snack, make a donation and move on.

We have all found our pace, Gill and Ramon are ahead, Tammy, Lynne and I are together, but Lynne picks up the pace and moves ahead. We cross paths with the Israelis again, Dima, Keren and Moran. We say hello and they tell me of their terrible night in the garage that flooded in Los Arcos. I feel fortunate that although I had to sleep on a floor too, at least it was a dry floor!

Tammy and Gill calling ahead for accommodation.
Note socks and shoes scattered around.

We continue on for another 13km before stopping in Navarette. Tammy and I reconnect with Gill here and make another phonecall to Najera, but we’re still out of luck on the accommodation front. It’s getting hot now. Each afternoon is creeping up to 28-30 degrees celsius (82-86 F), and the combination of heat, the long distances we are covering and the weight of our packs can be draining at times. We leave Navarette and I’m thinking it will be a long walk to Ventosa, but it passes in minutes. Tammy and I are deep in conversation about my world travels.

Snacking on grapes en route to Najera.

We all reconvene and have a sandwich together in Ventosa. We have covered 20 km since Logrono and we’ve no idea where we will sleep tonight. We push on as a group – Tammy, Gill, Ramon, Lynne and myself. We all take turns dropping back or moving ahead so we all have time to walk and talk with each other. I am walking with Gill as we cross a bridge, and I comment on how nice it would be to stop and put our feet in for a bit. We still have nowhere to stay, but none of us seem to be in much of a hurry to get anywhere. So Gill says, profoundly, “We pass too many rivers, without touching the water.” It is so true, so we take the time to stop and savor the ice cold water.

Dipping my feet in the river, just outside Najera.

I look to my left, and Gill is laying down, fully clothed in the river, which I laugh out loud about, but when I look to my left, Tammy has tears in her eyes. The ice cold water feels like shards of ice to her feet and the pain is unbearable. Fortunately, it passes quickly, and we are all feeling good as we make our way into Najera. Once we arrive, we head to a cafe on the far side of town. We order cold beers, chat with fellow pilgrims and our suspicions are confirmed – there are no rooms left in town. Rumors of an overflow gymnasium opening up are circulating, but we all agree that we can rest our feet and cover the next 6 km to a smaller village, Azofra.

The crew walking ahead, just after our break at the river.

After resting for 1 1/2 hours, we dig deep for the last part of the journey. Tammy and I walk together and I don’t know what powers us up the hill out of town! We get into a deep conversation about our work lives, and I think back to my corporate days in Manhattan and many of the feelings of self doubt and anxiety that plagued me from being in a place and situation that wasn’t healthy for me, a situation that I continued to try and convince myself was the right one and the one I wanted for too long. I realize that I haven’t really spoken to anyone about the specifics of my experience since leaving New York four years ago. It’s a cathartic conversation.

The albergue in Azofra.
The oldest albergue on the Camino

The others are further up ahead. It is still hot, but it is reaching end of day, and the light above the surrounding vineyards is soft. Azofra is becoming clearer in the distance, and I am so relieved to arrive. We have covered 37 km, and I make a beeline for the municipal albergue. They have space for us, but Ramon doesn’t want to stay at the municipal one and wants to look for other accommodation. I feel frustrated by this. My boots are off and I’ve already checked out the rooms that look clean and semi-private. When Ramon and Lynne show back up, we realize there’s no longer room for all of us, and the volunteer at the municipal albergue decides to move us into the overflow albergue. Now, I’m really frustrated. I put my shoes back on, heave my pack up and head over to the other side of the main street. We are shown to a small room with 4 bunkbeds in an old albergue. There are two other rooms, but no one else checks in. We have the place to ourselves and we learn that this is the oldest albergue on the Camino, dating back to 1168. I’m now realizing my frustration was totally out of line and that we are privileged to be staying together in such a historic spot.

We ditch our packs and walk around outside. Town is comprised of one main street, two cafes, two shops and approximately 250 people, if that. A group of elderly people sit outside their
homes near the albergue. One of the ladies takes my empty water bottle out of my hands, leaves and returns moments later with it filled. They are rambling on in Spanish, and I can only make out a few things they are asking and saying. I wish I understood, because the lines on their faces indicate they have some good stories to tell.

Bar Sevila, in Azofra.

We head to a small shop next door and stock up on some supplies- snacks and vino for after dinner, and then we head to Bar Sevilla for dinner. Given our long day, we are quite late to arrive for dinner, but Pico is accommodating, and seats us in the back of the restaurant.

The vino is flowing – which we feel we deserve after our 37 km and food has never tasted better. It is one of those nights where I want to hit pause. Despite feeling physically exhausted, our spirits have never been higher and there is a strong bond growing amongst the five of us.

We laugh our way through dinner, and instead of returning to the albergue to rest in preparation for the next day, we open another bottle of wine, which we pour into a porron. We pass it around the table, each taking turns to pour the wine into our mouths, with our arms extended high above our heads.

When the five of us finally huddle into our room and climb into our bunks, we’re delirious. Gill breaks out his harmonica and plays us a tune, while Ramon serenades us with song. We are all in a fit of laughter, but it’s not long before sleep finds us all.