Los Arcos – Logroño – Nájera – Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Belorado
Dear Amigos, greetings from Belorado. Like many of you I’ve been worried about our precious Camino and there is no doubt many businesses and facilities are suffering. I have also been worrying about the “Camino experience” whilst the world, and Spain in particular, is still in the grip of the pandemic.
Without pilgrims the Camino de Santiago is just a line on a map or a series of paths between towns and villages. With pilgrims the Camino comes alive, a living Way which I believe has the power to transform lives.
When we three arrived in Los Arcos we heard numerous stories from hostel and albergue owners of how few pilgrims there are. However at supper in the main square it was clear that there were other pilgrims around. I even heard some English voices.
Staying there gave us further insight into Spanish culture. There was a concert in the main square attended by a smattering of older people and mums with young children. The menfolk were crammed into bars to watch the Champions League Final. In fact there were so many people in the bars around the square they spilled out into the street, beers in hand and brotherly arms around each other. There is no doubt in my mind, and there is mounting evidence, that therein lies the cause of the recent worrying increase in Covid infections in Spain. Deep in the Spanish culture and way of life is their need to congregate, to socialise, to kiss and hug.
It was easy to avoid these places and we had a lovely supper in the Cathedral Square and a good sleep before setting out for Logroño next morning. The weather these days has been clear and sunny and hot, very hot by late afternoon. We had two long days ahead as we had elected for stages of 28 then 29 kms. We set off and the four Spanish lads in the “bubble” shouted “Buenos días” as they sped passed.
As we entered the picturesque little town of Sansol we were reminded that when moving from walking isolated country paths into populated areas face masks must be worn.
Stephen drew ahead as the sun rose in the sky. We caught up with him later in his role as the Reverend Lego, claiming he was just putting the finishing touches to a stone sculpture exhibition he had prepared while waiting for us.
As you may have read earlier we had a mission to visit María who sits outside her house just before Logroño welcoming pilgrims. Before her house the route passes from the region of Navarra to La Rioja. A sign we are making progress.
Leaving Logroño early next morning I was reminded why I love this part of the Camino as it weaves through the great wine region of La Rioja. At times there are vineyards as far as the eye can see.
Stopping for coffee in Navarette a visit to the Parish Church is a must. This is a local church of Cathedral proportions which is stunningly beautiful and very well restored and maintained. I know the sight of such opulence in a building can evoke mixed feelings. However this is our history, our legacy from the past to maintain for the future. In any event it was a model of good practice in Covid measures and boasts a statue of Saint Andrew, patrón of Scotland!
On the way to our next stop in Nájera we made a slight detour to Ventosa. I’m very glad we did, because we followed the “1km of Art” they have installed. It was wonderful.
During this day, and the following to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, we noticed more pilgrims and that the people seemed friendlier. Locals stopped to chat and people in cars waved. We met two French pilgrims at a rest area who got out their sleeping bags to lie in the sun for a siesta.
Just as we were a few kms from Santo Domingo I looked back to see a runner approach. “Impressive in this heat,” I thought. This turned out to be Daniel, an English man living in New York who has been travelling the world for 7 months with his wife, Abra. They met up with Abra’s sister, Alexis from London, and Catherine from Canada. Daniel ran ahead and a while later the three women overtook us walking strongly. Our first other English speakers! Soon we were in normal pilgrim conversation. Abra was very forthright.
“We’ve been travelling for 7 months from Peru to the UK, to Turkey, then France and Spain. The pandemic started as we travelled and we made a decision to be very careful to keep our distance from other people. We’re doing the same on the Camino. Talking from a reasonable distance is OK, touching and contact is not.”
Yesterday evening in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, that great iconic Camino Town, we all met in the square in front of the albergue. The hospitalero confirmed that 25 pilgrims had checked in. The English speakers were at a table and had been joined for a drink by a couple of Germans. The two French women strolled past and stopped for a chat. The lads who formed the Spanish bubble called me over to complain they hadn’t seen me during the day. “You sleep too late” one of them teased in broken English. Everyone laughed. I’m the oldest in the group – by a mile! In the restaurant I met another two pilgrims from our Facebook group. At least 40 if not more pilgrims making their way along the Holy Road to Santiago.
Today has been wonderful. In Grañón people shouted “Buen Camino” and all day we met and met again familiar faces, some of whom will be friends by the time we reach Santiago.
Let me finish on a serious note. Many pilgrims simply cannot travel this year because their country does not allow it, others do not want to run the risk of having to quarantine when they return home. Others worry about the escalating spread of the virus in Spain. I understand and respect all of this. However, walking the great open spaces of the Camino and talking and joking with fellow pilgrims at a slight distance, and wearing masks, and being careful entering and leaving accommodation and towns has made us feel very safe indeed.
As Abra said – keeping distance and no touching is the best way to remain safe. As she said this I realised that the last time someone kissed me was Sunday 15 March in Zamora Bus Station when a French pilgrim I had been chatting to spontaneously kissed me goodbye.
It may be some time until I give or receive a kiss or a hug but, until then, I’ll keep on walking the Camino routes to Santiago.