Home is where the seashell sign is.
This morning we went back to the plaza at Los Arcos for breakfast and found the same waitress who was supposed to be a local expert in weather. She predicted that the storm would last all night and therefore we chopped our route in half, but by the time we got into the albergue, took a shower, and went out for shopping for dinner the sky was all clear again… It was worth anyway staying there for the night.
For a change, we had tortilla de patata, chocolate croissant, colacao and orange juice. I told Jennifer over breakfast we were having a great time together and it was extremely helpful to have each other around, however, we now had to follow our own camino as we came doing this on our own. She agreed to that and confessed that she felt the same.
I rode to the next town and got lost right after exiting it. I thought about the lady who prepared the bocadillo for me who mentioned “the camino is not actually there, you have to go and do it on your own” while spreading avocado on a baguette. She wasn’t making reference to the Antonio Machado poem who was then sang by Serrat in ‘cantares’, she was actually giving some advices to climb El Perdón. So, I kept riding without any seashell guidance or yellow arrow until I found the next town. I took the risk of having to ride all the way back in case I did not find the camino again, but doing this by bike was way more manageable than walking. It turned out ok. As soon as I saw some pilgrims walking I felt I was in the right track again.
I kept finding pilgrims, all dressed in sports attire and loaded with a 10kg or so backpack, hours earlier I might have seen them wearing underwear walking out of the shower at the albergue. This was a great day, a few clouds but mostly blue sky and no wind. There were some hills, some of them quite steep but not too long. For the first time I rode on a paved rode for a couple of hundred meters and then got back into the dirt / stony / muddy walking way.
I arrived into Viana, a really nice town full of life. Leaned salsa at a bench at a plaza next to the main church and had a tangerine, banana, and a day or more old muffin that I rescued from the bottom of a pannier. A pilgrim on her 50s sat not very far from me and we started talking about how different this town felt. She was from Melbourne, Australia, and came with her friend originally but she couldn’t cope with the whole experience so after 4 days she flew back home. “It must have been very embarrassing for her to go back so quick, for over a year we’ve been planning this trip and told everyone about it” she said. They both had to go way beyond their comfort zone even if they were staying at pre-booked hotels everywhere. I told her to try for one night staying at an albergue, just as an exercise of going one level further and getting a new experience.
A minute after she left I started packing and saw Juan and Aldana coming in. We had a chat, they shared some chocolate and I got back to salsa to continue to Logroño. The Rioja landscapes were a bit flatter, very green and often you would see patches of yellow or white flowers between the grass fields. I wanted to eat at the famous Calle de Laurel where all locals go. I got into the city, this was the first time I rode into a mayor city but it wasn’t that overwhelming. I followed the camino arrows and when it looked like the city center I asked for the street I wanted.
Over the last few days I’ve been riding without GPS, detailed map, nor a guide or copilot telling me where to go. Following the seashells I’ve been riding and that was pretty much my home or safe area. Getting into Logroño without them it was somehow uncomfortable. First, I had no directions, second, I was now a stranger with a weird bike and clothing. I found the street full of restaurants and bars, I did not want to lock salsa and walk into a fancy restaurant with 4 panniers and mud everywhere. Finally I found a place that offered a bar area facing the street and served pinchos. The food was very good, finally warm and not canned, but the wine was really good.
I asked for the camino and got different versions, after some turns and a bit of stress I found the way out. It wasn’t straight forward and had the feeling of been lost for some time. The mind always try to remedy the situation with “I should have, or next time I’ll better do this” I thought to obtain a good map, but I no longer needed it as I found the signs again. I felt good riding out of the city and got some good speed, no cars, and no buildings, it was all great in the nature. When you are stressed the decision making process is rather quick or immediate, there is no noise around, then the mind is clear and other thoughts show up. I started thinking about Jennifer, I helped her out when she fell badly on the road in front of me and injured her hand, was wondering if she had fallen again. How far behind me she was from me. She wasn’t wearing hiking shoes with pedal cleats like me, hers were rather cycling racing style with some grip on the soul which were completely inappropriate for climbing steep hills and pushing her mountain bike loaded with panniers.
As I was thinking all this I climbed a hill to finish with a nice lake on the left side of the road and on the right I found Jennifer sitting on a bench studying one of her many maps with a bottle of water next to her.
She did not look like someone that just rode what she did at this point of the afternoon -50sh km of mountain biking-, she was as cool and comfortable as someone who just took an early morning shower went for a stroll on the park and decided to sit on a bench to drink coffee and read the newspaper.
We talked about our day and she said she was getting tired of cheese, ham and bread and she really wanted a nice warm meal. I just had one so I did not share the feeling, “maybe tonight’s dinner” I replied her trying to give her some hope. We started cycling and realized I had to adjust my left pedal, it wasn’t disengaging as I wanted and the front break needed some improvement. I told her to keep going and I would see her later.
It took me some minutes to finish that and after riding about 100m, I heard a crowd of spaniards and a female voice shouting at me and inviting me to their picnic. I turned to my right and found a table at the park with about 6 gentlemen on their 50s and 60s serving a nice dish with a just grilled piece of steak, cheese, and salad to Jennifer’s plate. I came down and got some food and wine from their bota. These guys were enjoying themselves with our company and in about 5 minutes of inviting pilgrims they got to gather people from: South Korea, Austria, Canada, US, Mexico and Venezuela. One of them commented that if the world representatives were gathered like that, there would not be any wars at all.
We kept riding and found myself alone again on the road, the views were great but the hills started to get steeper, the road narrower and the surface very stony. Up to the point that I had to get off salsa and start pushing her. It was a very long hill but the view afterwards was very rewarding. Before my eyes I had a dirt but flat downhill that went down the dark red ground field like a snake. I zoomed the road down and after some minutes found a couple of South Korean girls taking a break looking completely tired at the side of the road. I offered chocolate, bread and water, the only thing I had left, but they just had exactly that, they wanted to get to the albergue soon instead.
I asked them why many people from South Korea was here. I heard there was a guy from there who wrote a book and this was the trigger. But she knew about the camino before the book, “we are trapped in a small piece of land and can’t get anywhere because of North Korea, this experience gives us the feeling of freedom by walking through different regions and towns” she explained.
After some chat they got back on the road, I had my chocolate and kicked my shoes off. I realized it was going to get dark soon and got back on salsa. The road was divided in two ways, I believed left was the right way, but at a distance the girls I just saw were walking with great discomfort on the right road. There was no clear indication, I rode on the left for a while until I found the camino indications again. I went back and advised them about the way. I did not understand anything but after they thanked me in English I’m sure they started to blame one another for choosing the wrong way.
I got to Nájeras rather late, tried a couple of albergues and were full. The third one had plenty of empty beds and it was up to the pilgrim how much he or she wanted to pay for the night by throwing the money into a wooden box. I wanted to go out for dinner but met some friends from the road, we started to talk and got some of their snacks. I met a very interesting lady in her late 50s from Canada who was very knowledgable about Mexico and Native American civilizations. All of a sudden I had next to me Julio, an 86 year old guy expert in singing Jotas (Spanish traditional singing). I asked him to sing some and he actually did it right next to me. The 3 different conversations I had going on on the table came to a stop.
He appeared on a newspaper cause he composed a song that celebrated Spain been the football champion and won the final 4-0 against Italy. A very polite italian friend passed by and I just could not let this go, we told him to listen him singing, he enjoyed the first part of the song and admitted that his heart was completely broken by the later one.
Some time later Jennifer showed up to the same albergue, the guys who took care of the place invited the two of us for dinner and wine. This was the first time I had something cooked with meat. It was beans cooked with chorizo and other kind of corpses. I had the beans only but still had a terrible night afterwards.