I’d been working up to it for almost two weeks: today I would ask for what I wanted. I came to do the Camino alone yet I had been walking with friends since the beginning. At last I stood in my truth and the most delightful things happened.
When I woke up in the morning, I knew I was ready for a rest day. I told Katrin this and suggested that, if she wanted, we could meet the next day in front of the church in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. I felt so good about this decision. Suddenly, I felt free to choose my own path. I wasn’t sure how was going to meet her, but I was open to all possibilities.
We checked out of the pension, hugged goodbye, and off she went to her own.
I set my sites on seeing the inside of the town’s church when it opened at 9am. I sat around in the small and scenic square outside it, drying off a park bench to sit down and wait for the sun to rise high enough to warm the square.
A spritely German pilgrim named Mieke came along, wearing an adorable polka-dot skirt. We struck up a conversation and I learned that her skirt was handmade — a fantastic concession, I thought, to pilgrim pack weight obsessions. We landed on the topic I needed most to hear: the value of walking your own pace and resisting the urge to get to Santiago as fast as possible. It was so refreshing and validating.
With an hour to wait before the church opened, I killed time looking at an outdoor historic display. And then I filled my water bottle out of habit from the public tap. To my surprise, , I started to walk on the Camino. So much for my rest day in Nájera!
I felt delighted. I loved my own company.
Walking through Azofra, I took myself to coffee. There, I finally learned the names of the Korean couple (Mr. and Mrs. Lee) who we’d met regularly on the Way and loved. They were so friendly! During our conversation, we joked about hailing a taxi.
I walked from cloudy skies into sunny, through the vineyards of la Rioja and her grassy fields. Over hill and back down again — all at my own pace. I felt free. I sang. I said hello to fellow walkers.
Along the way, I gaped at the snow covered mountains all around me. I thought about home. I chatted with two lovely women from England as they ate their snacks. Later, I stopped for my own snack by a little waterfall and felt delighted at the sounds it made.
Aware of the risks of walking in solitude, I imagined the various violent ways I might kill a man with my new walking sticks. Even this delighted me. I felt totally confident and free.
As I passed through a little town, I saw a sweet old lady crossing the street to toss some dead flowers into the bushes. I spoke enough Spanish for us to share a laugh about the weather and I think we both left the conversation happier.
At the of the steep hill before entering Cirueña, I stopped to eat my lunch and cheered for the pilgrims as they completed the climb. Seriously delighted with life. Even my still-sore feet weren’t getting to me.
Inspecting my guidebook, I discovered that Santo Domingo de la Calzada had not just one Parador Hotel, but two. The less expensive one was within my budget. And my aunt, Elaine, stayed there when she’d been a pilgrim five years earlier.
This would be my carrot to get me the rest of the way.
Some say that Cirueña should change its name to Se Vende. At some point during Spain’s building boom, developers thought it would be a good idea to construct hundreds of apartments in this one golf course town. But none of them sold.
For Sale signs hung in every window and on every fancy gated entrance. It was eerie to walk through this heavily developed, utterly empty town. I didn’t see a single car, hear a dog bark, or see anyone walking except a few pilgrims.
On the way into Santo Domingo, I ran into the soft-spoken German pilgrim, Peter, who told me he’d seen Katrin and would be happy to deliver a message to her in the albergue. Such a sweet, thoughtful thing to do!
A few blocks out of the way, two fewer stars than the Parador on the church plaza, and significantly less expensive, it was totally worth it. I was awed. It looked like what you imagine the inside of a castle would — tapestries on the walls, lavishly carved furnishings, thick wool rugs, and heavy iron fixtures everywhere.
My room was so lavish, I didn’t want to go to sleep. Long, velvet curtains framed the window and my bed and had a sitting area with three period-style upholstered chairs. The bathroom had every product imaginable. I took a long shower and followed it with a long soak in the tub. I felt like a queen.
After I got dressed, the front desk called to tell me that three women were waiting for me in the lobby! I rushed down the stairs and was met with hugs and kisses from Muriel, Marisela, and Katrin. Such a happy reunion!
After they stopped gaping, their teasing was merciless and hilarious. Muriel was cracking jokes about the three of them being the working-class proletariat and I, the bourgeoisie. Could I condescend to be seen with them, staying in the donativo albergue? Coming from a family where a good ribbing means love, I grinned madly.
We all went out to dinner together, adding to our group Peter from Germany and Francesca from Italy. During the meal, the teasing continued when I spilled some food on my shirt.
“They won’t let you back in the hotel with stains on your clothes,” Muriel told me with deadpan delivery.
(I began laughing.)
“Give me your key,” she said. “I give you my bed number at the albergue for you to stay there.”
On the way back to my castle, I floated through a town alive and outdoors in the improving weather. A few small kids were kicking around a soccer ball and, as I passed them, it came to me. I stopped the ball properly, careful not to embarrass myself in this futbol-loving country, and returned it with a gentle kick.
I loved this day. I did a whole “official” stage (21km/13mi) in one day and on my own terms. It taught me the importance of advocating for what you want. It’s really good for your spirit.