The day proved to be a lovely easy stroll and we stopped for breakfast in a town called Ventosa before continuing into Najera. We walked through the cool morning hours and stopped at the first cafe we found on entering Najera. There were hours left of the day and we discussed maybe walking on to the next town, which, according to my Wise Pilgrim app, was only 5km away and had good reviews. Looking around the outskirts of Najera, we were not impressed. The town felt uninviting and our bodies had plenty of reserves left to continue. But we were slack-packing and our main bags had been sent to the municipal albergue in Najera. We would have to wait for the albergue to open before we could walk on.
We finished our coffees and ambled over the bridge into the old town and saw a wonderful shady walk by the river with benches everywhere. Perfect for sleeping on. We stood, looking down at the river covered in flowers, looked at each other and, in wordless accord, decide that the day was in fact too hot and we would stay in Najera after all. The town had redeemed itself and had become a lot more inviting. The lesson today was clearly to not to judge a book by its cover.
Jennifer and I lay by the river on the shady grass and ate some snacks before closing our eyes. Once rested, we paid €4 to go into the Monestario de Santa Maria la Real which is built into the entrance of a cave. There are tombs of kings and their children and beautiful works of art. Afterwards, we found the municipal and saw that it only opened at 1.30pm. A Japanese pilgrim we knew was waiting on a bench outside the closed door and we asked if she wanted to join us for a meal. As a team we scoured out the cafes and bars for one that would offer both a decently price menu and, most importantly, air conditioning. We ducked from one shadow to the other, the heat sucking at us until we found something that pretty much matched our criteria. We then trailed back to the albergue to book our beds.
Jennifer and I were unsure if we wanted to stay in the municipal albergue. We were still reeling from the dicovery of bug bites the night before. The municipal was huge and had a massive amount of pilgrims all crammed into one room. We walked in to see the room and were immediately assailed by the smell of everyone. But most importantly, there was air conditioning. Smell aside, the place would suit us very well and we paid the donativo for our beds.
Lying in my assigned bed, I tried to sleep but couldn’t with people shuffling and talking. There was even a family with a very young baby. So, I walked into the communal area which was separated from the sleeping quarters by a door. There I met an Italian who attached himself to me. He was very sweet but I found his aggressive form of flirting a bit unsettling. I didn’t want to give him unrealistic expectation and managed to avoid his physical and flirtatious advances while feeling a little flattered. I was pretty dirty, smelly and wearing the same unattractive gear I’d been wearing for over a week. I was also covered in bug bites. I felt very un-feminine and undesirable. He finally got the hint from my lack of responsiveness and eventually left me alone. I was incredulous and intrigued, wondering what there was about me that made me so attractive when I felt anything but. It had also been a long time since I had been on a date in London. After finishing my Masters, I had been working crazy hours and feeling so exhausted. Then the terror event happened and my weight had spiraled. I felt huge and gross. I needed to take control of my health which was one of the reasons I was on this pilgrimage. If I continued in the direction I was going, I would end up with some serious health problem. My mother is diabetic and I did not want that for myself. Only I could make that choice. But to be desired. That was a gift for me on the Camino. He respectfully backed off when I did not return his desire, but the fact that I could be desirable as a woman began to fill me with a newfound confidence.
While sitting on the bank of the river that evening with the other pilgrims, we became aware of rhythmic instruments coming towards us. Looking up, we could see a group of dancers making their way towards us. They were singing and playing instruments and had shells around their ankles that rattled in time to their steps. They stood in a circle and sang and played while incense poured from a burner. They continued to play for ages and Jennifer and I eventually left them to their ceremony to go lie on our beds again.
While resting, we could hear a group of men having a conversation while very high on something. We left them to their strange antics and went to the front of the municipal where the Italians running the albergue had set up a party with wine and sausage rolls. We were promptly given glasses of cold wine and told to sit at the bench. While laughing and eating, the dancers from the river came into the common area and sang and spoke blessings for our pilgrimage. A Buddhist monk had been resting in the sleeping area and had stepped out of the room to see what was happening. He was immediately surrounded by the players who told us that they were there to celebrate the day of St James. They told the monk to kneel in front of them and they sang around him while a woman enveloped him in incense. When they were done, he stood again and had tears running down his cheeks.
One of the Italians said to me, ‘The Camino provides magic.’ And she seemed to speak truth. Somehow, our feet had taken us to unexpected and half-planned destination and the Camino had supplied us with a whole plethora of amazing sights and experiences.