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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.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Logrono, pilgrimage, Rioja, Spain, Tapas, Torres del Rio

September 8th, Day 7: Torres El Rio to Logrono

Mile markers outside of Torres El Rio

At 6:00, Eddie is up and ready to start walking again. I decide there’s really no point in trying to sleep any longer. As I pack up my belongings, I wonder what kind of day lies ahead. Heavy, cold rain has started to fall outside. I put my pack on and pull the yellow poncho over my head and over my pack to protect it too, and Eddie and I make our way out of town. We take the wrong route and backtrack up the hill back into town…I have a feeling it’s going to be a very long morning.

There’s a steady incline outside of town, and when the sun finally rises, I realize I am surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards. We are entering the region of Rioja and I’m surrounded by green and purple grapes on either side of me.

Rioja territory

The rain eases up and the steady pace I’m walking at eases me out of the funk of a sleepless night. Despite having a total of three hours of sleep, I’m feeling relatively strong. It’s a total of 11 km to Viana and I walk the route alone, eventually entering into town alongside a main road. I run into Kyle and Jen, who are finishing breakfast and sit down for my now routine breakfast of coffee and a bocadillo.

The entryway to Viana

Viana is like a much smaller Puenta La Reina. Narrow streets are decorated with flags and an old church sits on the main square. At the other end of town sit the ruins of another church, San Pedro, dating back to the 13th Century. I stop in for a look before leaving town, and see two other pilgrims, who I keep passing each day, but who I’ve yet to have the opportunity to connect with.

As I leave town, I see a sign for Logrono: 10 km. I walk strongly, which is surprising despite my lack of sleep. It’s as if moments later I see another sign for 4 km. I begin walking with Jacobo, an Italian man who I have been bumping into the past couple of days. His English is about as good as my Spanish, and we have broken conversations, but try to make the effort to understand each other. ¬†We connect with a group from Bilbao – Fernando, Estaboliz and Yolando. They are only doing a portion of the Camino and they welcome us into their group. It’s like I’ve been walking with them since day one. All three of them have such bright, positive energy – I feel energized just being around them! They tell me about Bilbao, which they consider to be the best city in Spain, and moments later, I have an invitation to go and visit.

The crew from Bilbao – Yolanda, Estaboliz and Fernando

We arrive in Logrono early, before the municipal albergue has even opened. A line of pilgrims are sitting outside, tending to their feet, and visiting with each other, sharing stories from these early days. I sit with Jacobo, Fernando, Estaboliz and Yolando, take off my boots, and thank my lucky stars that I am going to have a bed to sleep in tonight. When the doors to the albergue open, we get checked in, pile our dirty clothes together to do laundry together and queue up for showers.

Something clicks in Logrono. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’ve covered 20km without blinking an eye, the clean laundry I have, the relief of knowing I have bed, or the fact that we’re in a small, civilized city. Maybe it’s a combination of all this, but I notice a feeling that I’m finding my groove and I feel good.

Rioja in Logrono

I get in touch with Tammy and Gill over email and make plans to meet them for a glass of wine in the early evening. I find out they stayed in Sansol the night prior, and I’m disappointed to have missed them. But, we have reconnected now, and I am happy to have experienced true Camino hospitality at Casa Maria the night before.

Jennifer, Kyle, Tammy, Gill and me before our tapas crawl

I take a short walk through town, but it’s Sunday, and everything is closed. It is not until evening when people start to come out that the city starts to feel a little livelier. I head over to the square and order a 1 Euro glass of Rioja and flag down Tammy and Gill when I see them. Kyle and Jen join us as well, and we are now a group of five, hungry and ready to hit the famous Calle San Juan for pinxos y vino.

At the first stop, Cafe San Juan, we are greeted by an older, eccentric lady, wearing bright green-rimmed eyeglasses. She is running the show and has a bar full of patrons, a sign that we’ve found a good spot. The counter is covered with tapas dishes – anchovies, cabrales (a strong cheese), marinated peppers, chorizo, soft cheese and jam all atop crispy crostinis. Five small glasses of rioja are poured and we see Paulo, a worker from the albergue (and a local) another sign we’re in a good spot.

Stop 1 – Bar San Juan

We could easily stay here, but we’ve been told that the way to enjoy this famous street is to stroll from one end to the other, stopping in at numerous places for samples, tastes and treats. We pay our bill of 20 Euro for the five of us, and head to the next joint, Cafe Bar Garcia. Here, the vibe is entirely different. The focus is meat and bar stools are occupied by heavy set Spanish men who look like they’ve eaten as hard as they’ve worked over the years.

A few families walk in and I get the sense that this is a real local joint, yet we are welcomed in our pilgrim state – weathered and under-dressed. Sandwiches of jamon and chorizo are shared, with more generous pours of vino tinto. The bill is 14 Euro.

Cafe Bar Garcia’s cured meat selection

At Vinissimo, the next stop on our pinxos tour, we are the only people, except for one Spanish man at the far end of the bar. A lady who speaks no English, but has endless amounts of smiles for us, treats us to eggplant and ricotta, foie gras, and more sausage. The vino blanco (which is a Gewurtztraminer) is just as good as the vino tinto. More foie gras is ordered and we pay the 19 Euro tab.

We decide we have room enough in our stomachs to visit one more spot. We enter Tastavin and can barely belly up to the bar. The rest of the group heads to the back of the restaurant in search of a table and I squeeze up to the bar and catch the eye of the busy waitress. Five vino tintos and an array of pinxos are ordered. These are the best yet – tempura artichoke, pulled pork, beef and gravy.

Menu choices at Cafe Bar Garcia

I look around and feel as if I’m in a trendy tapas bar in New York City. Black walls are adorned with silver guilded mirrors, and over-the-top crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. We sit at a sleek metallic table, and behind us I overhear a Spanish couple say “peregrinos.” We begin chatting, them telling us that the Spanish drink and eat better than anyone else in the world. After tonight, I cannot disagree with them. I wish them ‘que aproveche,’ a wish that they profit from their food.

It’s my turn to pay, so I venture to the bar and the waitress does the math in her head, while I wonder how much these amazing pinxos are going to cost. She hands me a receipt for 12 Euro. Now we know why this place is packed. I feel like we’ve found Logrono’s best tapas bar!

We leave around 9:30, conscious of the early morning to follow, but the streets are just coming to life. People are overflowing from bars into and onto high top tables in the streets. We waddle back to the start of Calle San Juan, soaking in what is just another night in Logrono.

I feel reenergized for the night out and feel more like a city resident than a pilgrim who is just passing through. I’m buzzing from the energy of this place and the vino tinto, but I’m aware of the journey tomorrow and the fact that I had little more than three hours of sleep last night. As I return to the albergue, I see Paulo again. He asks how our night was, and my smiles says it all. I wish him a good night and head to bed, full and happy.