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Torres del Rio

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.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Estella, pilgrimage, Spain, Torres del Rio

September 7th, Day 6: Estella to Torres El Rio: There’s No Room at the Inn

Wine fountain in Estella

The world is awake and in a hurry to get on the road. I again, decide to hang back and let the masses leave and head out after a coffee. On my way out of town, I note the heavy skies and stop at a gas station shop when I see a poncho hanging in the window. I’m not going to take any chances. 7 Euro later, I am the proud owner of an unnervingly thin, bright yellow poncho.

No vino at the fountain

On the outskirts of town, I finally run into Tammy and Gill. Ray and Sean have already left and I’m disappointed I’ve missed the opportunity to say goodbye. We continue on as a group of three, and it’s odd to be with others at first. I have spent an entire four days walking completely alone, but I think it was good for me to be by myself through the pain of those first few days. The pain had been having a negative impact on my overall demeanor and mood, and I don’t think I would have been good company to anyone.

Shortly into our walk, we stop at the fountain of wine. Ironically, it has run dry… no vino for us, yet. At the next town, I stop for a coffee, and Tammy and Gill walk ahead. Before parting ways, we decide to exchange email addresses just in case. The tentative plan is to reconvene in Los Arcos, which is a solid stretch of 20km, but we talk about continuing on.

Early morning light on the hilltop outside of Estella

The next 10 km go by surprisingly fast, but the last 3 km into town are a bit painful. As I reach town, there’s a little cafe on the left, and I debate about stopping for a quick bite. Instead, I decide to look for Tammy and Gill and check out accommodation, and in doing so, I miss the hand-written note that they have left for me on the sign outside that little cafe. The note was to inform me they have decided to keep walking to Sansol.

Meanwhile, I check out the first albergue, which is filling up quickly… I don’t get a good vibe and there’s no sign of Tammy and Gill, so I walk through town to check out the other albergues. There are no beds left anywhere and more people are continuing to arrive.

I begin chatting to a group of Israelis at a private albergue on the outskirts of town. They have been offered the floor in the garage and invite me to camp out with them, but with no sleeping pad, I’m hesitant. I walk back through town and sit with my indecision. The square is full of pilgrims, and I see my Spanish snorers. They call out and wave to me. They are on their second or third beers, smoking and smiling away. The air is turning chilly very quickly and storms are brewing above. I weigh my options of pushing on to Torres El Rio or sleeping on the floor in Los Arcos, and then the heavens open.

Heavy skies just outside of Los Arcos

I feel drunk from the combination of hunger and fatigue, and I find a market to buy some food. I have all these things in my hands when I approach the counter, and I slowly start debating what to buy, putting some things back at the last minute. I don’t know what I need or want and the lady who runs the shop is losing patience with me. I end up with a cookie and an energy drink. I top this off with a cortado and make the decision to hightail it out of Los Arcos. I gather my things from the albergue, and the kind lady there calls ahead to Torres El Rio to reserve me a bed at Casa Maria. I bid farewell to the Israelis and at 5pm, I am back on the road.

My body is tired and barely fueled up, but I walk with more strength and determination than I have all week. 7 kms go by in the blink of an eye. I pass through Sansol – a sleepy little town with not a soul in sight but arrive in Torres El Rio to some type of festival. People are pouring out of buildings, children are dressed up in costume and a stage is set in preparation for a concert.

I see Casa Maria across the square and make my way to check in. Reception is swarming with pilgrims and I learn there are no beds left. I try to explain about the phonecall made by the lady in Los Arcos, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are full. Eddie, the Austrian, and I are in the same predicament. We don’t know what to do. Walking on is not an option – it is too late in the day, and I have already covered close to 30 kms. Oddly, I’m not bewildered by this situation. I’m hopeful that something will work out. Fernando, who runs Casa Maria and the small adjoining shop, eventually takes pity on us. He offers Eddie and I the market floor for 5 Euros each.

I opt in for the pilgrim’s dinner, which is held in an upstairs restaurant. It’s a beautiful spot, with dark wood floors, large wooden tables and chairs, and clean white linens. Everyone is looking clean and presentable, and I’m still in my sweaty trekking clothes, preparing for a night on the market floor! Still, dinner is delicious and I savor every bite of the traditional pilgrim’s dinner – salad, chicken and chocolate mousse, topped off with fresh bread and endless amounts of vino tinto. I share the table with two ladies from Aix-en-Provence, two Swiss-Germans, and Eddie. I keep my eyes peeled for Tammy and Gill, but I never do find them.

Eddie from Austria

We head back to the market after dinner but have to wait until 10:30 for the shop to close up before we can create our makeshift beds for the night. I sit on a small chair in the corner of the shop near reception, and moments later, Pedro, my Brazilian bunk neighbor from Roncesvalles appears. We each have a beer and converse in broken English and Spanish.

He looks down at my feet – dirty, dusty, band aids, blisters and all and asks if they hurt. I try to explain that once I have my boots off, they don’t. He then pats his legs, as if to tell me to put my feet up on his lap and he begins to rub my dirty, blistered feet. I am so taken aback by this gesture. I am left speechless.

The marketplace floor, my bed for the night.

Fernando is ready to close up shop, so I say goodnight to Pedro and find Eddie. Fernando tells us he only has one mattress. I know Eddie has back pain because he transports his backpack on a little device with wheels, almost like a cross between a stroller and a golf bag holder that you can push along. Needless to say, I give Eddie the mattress. I fold a comforter in half to provide some cushion and unroll my sleep sheet. After a shower, I’m actually thinking that this may be the best night’s sleep I will have on the Camino due to the lack of collective snoring. Eddie says he’s not a snorer, and with just the two of us in here, it will be the quietest night yet, or so I believe.

I fall asleep at 11, but around 1 a.m., I am rudely awakened by the festival band that has come back for a second set. I feel as if I’m sleeping under the stage. They play a combination of traditional Spanish music and American pop, blaring out the Black Eyed Peas, “I gotta feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night,” and I think to myself, “No, no, it really isn’t.” The band shows no sign of stopping, and the music continues until 5 a.m.