The Road to Santiago.

October 14, 2002


Portal from the 12th Century hospital/church

Navarrete to Nájera

The next morning when I left the Navarrete, the Italian host gave me a small stone with a yellow arrow on it. Was that a good sign, or was he worried about me? And would that be a bad sign?

When leaving town, I saw the portal of that 12th century hospital/church which had been moved to the local cemetery and installed as a gate. (The portal finally had a nice resting place, too.) It was a truly beautiful piece of architecture.

The landscape now is vineyards and more vineyards. [Editor's notes: The Rioja region, to the west of Logroña, is a fertile valley named after the Rio Oja tributary. The area is famous for its many vineyards which produce a red wine (light and smooth with some body), known and appreciated worldwide, as well as asparagus, artichokes, and tomatoes.]

While walking through all those fields of grapes I began to wonder how much money a vintner could make. I've had fantasies of being a gentleman farmer with a winery. (Although my friend Bob reminds me that first I have to be gentleman!) For twenty-five years, I've been self-employed. Thus, the entrepreneur in me is usually trying to figure out the financial potential of an enterprise. While going along beside one vineyard, I saw a man and a woman cutting grapes. I asked them a few preguntas (questions). How many grapes does it take to make a bottle of wine? The respuesta (response):  one kilo of grapes, one bottle of wine. How many bottles in a year does a particular plant make? It depends on the weather. This year was very bad weather. A couple of times — ice (frost??).

Got to Nájera a lot earlier than I expected — just before noon and spent some time looking for a store which could charge my phone. I had to wait patiently while some guy checked out all the TVs on sale. Once he found out that the sale didn't count if he used a credit card, he abruptly left without further words. Fortunately, the clerk didn't take his frustration out on me.

When I arrived at the albergue it was still closed. It was too early. So I went to find lunch. The dining room was closed until one o'clock. Too early. So I waited at the bar with a glass of vino tinto. I ordered a Spanish-style lunch: ensalada mixta y codornices (mixed salad and a pair of quail). (Let me tell you about quail. They are so small that they make Rock Cornish Hens seem like giants. It's impossible to overeat from a meal of quail. Fortunately the mixed salad was large enough to be a meal in itself.)

While waiting for lunch, I got upset with myself for not going farther. I could have pushed on. I should have made better time. This was the beginning of my "funk." I started to become depressed. The camino was no longer new and exciting. In fact it was beginning to be a drudge — to become boring. I missed my family and friends. The thought that I have another month to go seemed overwhelming.

To make matters worse, when I got back to the albergue, I learned that we were assigned beds instead of being able to choose our own. The proprietor filled each bunk in sequence as people arrived instead of spreading people around the room. And the bunks were jammed together with barely two feet between them. The placement didn't seem smart because there were still plenty of empty bunks. Several people complained but the proprietor insisted. A German woman was on one side of me and an Irish woman on the other. They were not pleased to see me. (Maybe they suspected I was a snorer!!) We three were jammed in like sardines. And their obvious discontent created a tension, which added to my funk.

Inga and friend
Then I got a phone call from home base and talked for about twenty minutes.  After the call, I realized that I hadn't heard from anyone in quite awhile and that was probably the cause of my depression. I started to feel better. Oh, the power of positive communication!

Went to supper at the same place that I had lunch. It was the only place that served dinner early to accommodate pilgrims. A group invited me to join their table. I met a man named Rufino and his wife, Inga. They were from Frankfurt, Germany, although Rufino was Spanish and originally from Avila. The other man at the table was Carlos, from Barcelona. I don't know, however, who the other woman was or where she came from. She talked too fast for me to understand and was very assertive. I wasn't about to ask a second time!

I got into a discussion with Rufino and told him that I had been to Avila twice. (Editor's note: Avila is a city famous for being the home of Santa Theresa. It is also known as Spain's best example of a medieval city since its encircling walls and the defensive towers are still intact.) I told him that one of the best meals I've ever had in Spain was in a restaurant in Avila. He knew the restaurant and agreed that it was very good but muy caro (very expensive).

Then Inga asked me about myself. She had seen me counting out all my piles of belongings when I was taking inventory of my pack. I mentioned that I was a diabetic. She indicated that her husband, Rufino, was also a diabetic, but not insulin dependent. This led to a discussion about diabetes that quickly turned into an argument. Apparently the assertive woman was a nurse and was quite opinionated. I couldn't follow the discussion but I heard,  "los Estados Unidos" (the United States), bandied back and forth several times. Rufino just rolled his eyes and then winked at me. Never a dull moment when you're around an interesting group of people!!
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