The Road to Santiago.

October 15, 2002



Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Hey, Ma! I learned a new Spanish word today: calambre. It means cramp, and I had several in the night — in both hamstring muscles and my forearms. The ones in my forearms were extremely painful and it was all I could do to keep from crying out (in a dormitory room full of soundly sleeping pilgrims). And with my legs, I was afraid to bend them at all for fear of setting one off. So, I lay there, stiff as a board, with an occasional roll from one side to the other. Once I even got out of bed and went downstairs to walk around until the pain went away. I suspected that the cause was the excessive amount of sweating I had done in the heat that day which had made me lose a lot of electrolytes. I think that some of my hypertension medicine (the diuretic) also contributed. I don't mind adjusting my insulin, I've been taught how, but I don't want to mess with the blood pressure meds, especially since walking up and down hills increases the heart rate. When I mentioned my problem to the Irish woman, she gave me a packet of powder she uses to balance her electrolytes. Her name was Hannah.

We had breakfast listening to Gregorian chants. Since we were in a renovated wing of an old monastery, it seemed appropriate. Breakfast was the typical café con leche with bread and jams or shortbread cookies. I chose the cookies, guessing at the proper insulin dosage.

Left the albergue in the dark — heard the church bells chime eight as I was going up the hill. Fortunately, I didn't need to see yellow arrows. The dirt road was very obvious. It was the first time I had walked in the dark and the effect was surreal. I think the bat flying over my head had a lot to do with it.

Soon overtaken by a man from Holland who was walking with a funny gate. Asked him if his feet were sore. He said no, why do you ask? I said that I thought he was limping. "No," he said indignantly, "my feet are all right. It's my hip, I had a replacement." (Oops, it was my foot that was the problem — it was in my mouth.) Then, as if to chide me, he quickened his pace and left me in the dust.

The dawn was beautiful. There were streaks of red and pink all across the eastern sky. Then I remembered the poem my father often recited: Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. I wondered if the same caution applied to Spanish farmers.

Later as the sun came up I saw a beautiful arco de iris (rainbow). Then something happened that took my breath away. The sky began glowing. There was golden light in the sky directly ahead of me. Then an oak tree also began to glow. Suddenly a well near the tree shone like it was in a spotlight. I turned around and saw what appeared to be the sun in a notch of the mountain, as if in the sight of a rifle which was aimed at the well. The glowing tree was awe inspiring. If I had been a pilgrim a thousand years ago, I would have built a chapel to the burning tree and the golden well at that spot.

Then the rain came. Not much, but enough to dampen my moment of awe.

I stopped at a bar to have breakfast and dry off. Inside there was the Dutchman and a woman from Austria who invited me to join them. I had a real breakfast for a change — ham and fried eggs. I was able to adjust the insulin to make up for the under dose of the morning.

Later, I came to a place where the route diverged into two directions. While I was studying my guidebook, trying to make up my mind, I was joined by Hannah, Rudy, and a German woman. A discussion then ensued as to which would be the best route. I decided to take the more direct way, while the others took the more traditional path. I made some pretty good time on the right fork. Then the path ended and I had to walk on the edge of the highway. I only walked there for a few minutes before I quickly realized that if I stayed on the highway, I would never get to Santo Domingo (or anywhere else for that matter). Thus I went through the fields parallel to the road. That slowed me down considerably since the terrain was very irregular and I was fearful that I would twist my ankle. Also, the recent rains made the footing slippery and downright muddy. I got to town about the same time as the people who went the long way. So much for short cuts.

Got to the albergue in Santa Domingo de la Calzado at about 1:30, which means I did the 20 K in about 5 hours — pretty good speed for me. However, as I was unloading my pack, I heard a cock crowing, which is strange because we were in the middle of a pretty large city. Since Santo Domingo de la Calzada is famous for being the location of the milagro de gallo y galina (miracle of the cock and the hen) I thought that the crowing seemed a good omen to me.

[Editor's notes:  According to legend and James Michener, in his book Iberia, Santo Domingo was sainted because of what he did for the pilgrims as thousands passed through this town in the mid 11th Century. He lived near the camino and built refuges to care for the sick, built kitchens to feed the hungry, and paved roads (calzadas) to speed them on their way. In fact, he is considered the patron saint of all those who work on roads.]

The story of the chicken miracle is what Santo Domingo is best known by even though there were other events attributed to this place. The story occurs in several forms throughout Europe, but all basically tell the same tale. A German family was passing through the city on their way to Santiago and stayed at a local inn. The innkeeper's daughter became enthralled with the young man of the family. Since he was on a pious journey, he spurned her advances. Being a scorned woman, she framed the man by hiding a silver cup among his things. Then she went to the authorities and denounced him. When he was searched, they found the goods on him and he was taken to be hanged. Santo Domingo kept him alive while hanging there by supporting his feet. The parents heard that their son was still alive. They went to the head honcho and begged the important personage to release him. The official said that the boy could no more be alive then the roasted chickens on his dinner table were alive. At that point the poultry sprang alive as full-fledged cock and hen. As the cock started crowing, the official ordered that the boy be cut down.

Thus Santo Domingo has become associated with this story and is pictured with a white cock and hen. In fact, inside the church, high on a shelf is an elaborate pen where a live rooster and hen are always kept. (For those of you who are PETA advocates, they change the animals every 21 days — what happens to them afterwards, I do not know.)

When I returned from supper, several people were grouped around a young Italian man who had a very bad blister. Several suggestions were made as to the proper approach, but Rufino decided to "wick" the blister. First he cleaned the area with a disinfectant and then he sterilized a needle and a section of thread. He then pierced the blister with the needle and pulled the thread through the wound. After cutting the thread there were two ends sticking out. He explained that the thread would serve as a wick and drain the pus from the blister. The helping tradition of Santo Domingo still carries on more than a thousand years later!!

(It is very important for a diabetic to pay attention to the condition of his feet. Although many pilgrims have been plagued with blisters, I'm lucky that so far I have had only one small one. I attribute this to a combination of the right fit in the right shoes. My podiatrist explained to me how to choose shoes that fit — ones that are designed for high arches and straight feet. Not all shoe manufacturers can satisfy those criteria. New Balance seems to be right for me and many of my friends testify to the comfortable support and fit of New Balance.)
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