Day 8: Viana (18km)

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Although most of the pilgrims were tucked up in their bunks and aiming for an early night, a large group refused to acknowledge the curfew and sat around a table under our window and shared bottles of wine and spoke with increasingly louder voices, punctuated by rounds of hilarity. The humid air stuck to us and the rubber mattresses clung to our sticky bodies. I lay there, jolted time and again by their loud foghorn voices, hoping someone would eventually tell them to be quiet. Jennifer and I had a 5am start the next day and I was tired. But no one did anything but huff and sigh, mumbling and afraid. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any more and, heart pounding in my chest, I went onto the shower room, leaned out of the window and called down saying, “I don’t mean to be a drag, but you’re making so much noise and most of us are trying to get to sleep which is already very difficult in the heat. So do you think you could maybe keep it down?”

Embarrassment and mortification flooded me. I walked back to my bed, hot with the feeling that I had lost any ounce of coolness that I may have possessed up to that point. I whispered to Jennifer, “I’ve just become one of those people.”

She replied, “We need more of those people.”

It was dark at 5am and the sun would only rise at 6.30am. A young tom cat came up to us as we put our shoes on on the patio. I recognised him from the previous day as he had kept us all company. Before leaving, I bought a tin of sardines and gave it to him. He was so skinny, but he was loud. The sardines weren’t much. But at least it was something and I could not in good conscious just leave the poor creature. He has been a good companion to us.

We stopped along the way in an albergue’s cafe and had coffees and rolls before continuing slowly towards Viana. Christopher was a young man from Switzerland and caught up with us on a hill. He walked with us up the very steep hill and chatted, keeping us company. I had seen him on the train to St Jean and we had spoken off and on along the way. He said that he was studying classical guitar with a special interest in Renaissance and Baroque music.

Reaching the top of the hill, Jennifer and I sat on a bench overlooking Viana where Christopher wished us a buen Camino and continued into town. He had plans to go further that day, but we had decided to stop in Viana which was a compromise to my planned itinerary. It erkked me still, but I knew that I needed to be less unwielding and I was aware that it is a failing of mine. I needed to be more fluid in my plans. Viana was the perfect place to learn such fluidity and compromise because the day’s events were full of delightful surprises and wonderful memories. Memories that would not have been made if I had rigidly stuck to my itinerary.

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We walked into Viana at about 11am and, filling our bottles at a fountain, met a Canadian called Wes who runs a cafe called Pilgrim’s Oasis. He told us that it was fiesta time and that they would run the bulls through the streets at 2pm. He suggested that we come to his cafe and watch it safely from behind the gate that he would place in front of his cafe door. He also offered us foot baths and promised that the wine would be chilled and the humus homemade. We thanked him for such a generous and tempting offer and continued into the town to find the municiple albergue. We were far too early to get a bed and, instead, sat in a grassy park on a part of the old medieval walls with amazing panoramic view of the countryside. After a time, I left Jennifer in the park while I went to find something cold to drink. I also wanted to explore the old village streets which were full of cafes, people and fiesta puppets and musicians.

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Munching on a banana, I came back to Jennifer and we went to sort out our beds and have showers. Together, we then made our way back into town and drank cold red wine sitting outside Wes’s cafe while a Mariachi band serenaded up. Wes’s wife, Sherry, joined us as the street began to clear of people, tables and chairs. Shops began placing metal gates in front of the doorways and people sat on balconies, legs swinging through the bars. We helped to get the furniture back inside the shop. Clara, an Italian pilgrim, and her uncle joined us and we watched the bulls run up and down the street. It was incredible. Sherry said that the bulls return year after year and are not killed. They are proudly part of the town. I did feel sorry that they were teased as they were, but no one hurt them. They just tried to frustrate them. They were then led away, back to their pen until later.

We were so hot. The heat hung thick in the air and people began to drift away to enjoy their siestas. Jennifer and I, heads nodding and eyes heavy, decided to follow suit. No sooner had be settled into our beds, when loud music suddenly blasting from the church ruins next to the albergue. It was pointless trying to sleep. The walls and beds vibrated with the heavy bass. Looking out of the window, we could see that the church ruins were full of teenagers. The boys were gathered at one end, while the girls gathered at another. The music blared and no one danced, just kind of bobbed in place.

Jennifer and I decided to look for a cold bar. It was just too hot and a siesta was just too elusive. We wandered into one bar after the next until we found one that had a basement with a huge barrel in the wall and a spigot to pour cider. A woman came up and poured tasters for us. We watched the cider shoot from the cask into a bucket until she expertly caught the golden stream with the tasting glasses in her spare hand. The cider was cloudy and cold. But it was very bitter and we could not finish the samples. We thanked her as graciously as we could and left to continue looking for a cool bar. Eventually, we walked in through a door and felt cool air float around us. Without much debate, we sat, ordered icy Sangrias and ate pinchos. A French woman joined us and we communicated with each other, speaking some simple French/Italian words and using lots of expansive hand gestures.

To finish an already full and vibrantly over-stimulating day, we went for a Pilgrim’s mass in the church opposite the bar. The priest prayed fervently for us and our journeys, determined to ignore the band playing loudly outside the chapel window. Our heads were bent while the windows rattled in their frames and we tried to not giggle.

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