The Way of Saint James: a whim and a prayer
Nájera to Sainto Domingo de la Calzada (21.0 km)
Santo Domingo de la Calzado, La Rioja with its narrow winding streets and honeycomb stone buildings including the beautiful tree lined paseo adjacent to the regal Adadía Citercienses Albergue owned and run by the Cistercian nuns did little to revive my dwindling spirits.
It had been a tough day. At 6.45 am I joined Sigruu, the German lady with the damaged leg I meet in our hostel at Nájera, at the bus terminal. I had also expected Chiarra to join us. The bus came some twenty odd minutes later however, Chiarra failed to arrive.
In Santo Domingo de la Calzado we found a quaint café, which had delicious looking pastries unfortunately the one I choose was heavy and lacking in flavor. Over coffee I insisted upon accompanying Sigruu on her quest to locate a Doctor. It took visits to two different Pharmacia’s for us to fully understand how to locate the medical center, which was a glass pyramid building on the outskirts of Santo Domingo de la Calzado. To get there we had to navigate our way through streets of grungy apartment blocks. When we turned a corner and faced scruffy vacant land Sigruu started to turn back. Thankfully as I turned to the right I saw the modern emergency center; it was both an incongruous and surreal sight.
The emergency medical center however, was extremely efficient. Within thirty minutes Sigruu had been examined by a Doctor, her leg x-rayed, returned to the Doctor for his diagnosis. He wanted a second opinion and decided she would need to go to the hospital in Logroño. I waited with her until the ambulance arrived.
Sigruu had tasked me with delivering a letter to her husband Hermann. Somehow I managed to locate their hotel, Hospedería Santa Teresita, a beautiful modern hostel also owned and run by the Cistercian nuns. Enroute I found the Tourism Office and requested the bus timetable for Bilbao; the rather unfriendly officer wrote 7.35, 9.45 and 1.30 on a post-it-note, handed it to me and went back to her conversation. As I walked back along the narrow streets I run into Chiarra; her face was drawn, her eyes dark and stormy. The Albergue they stayed at in Nájera was infected with chinches; at mid-night a group of walkers unable to stay in the beds packed up and went in search of another place to stay. I wondered how long she would continue to accompany Franco on the Camino Way.
The lobby of the Hospedería was both austere and serene. After unsuccessfully trying leave Sigruu’s letter at reception I decided to wait in reception for Hermann. Two hours later a rather relieved Sigruu walked through the front doors. The Doctor in Logroño re-examined the x-ray and leg, stating she had not fractured the bone. Her right shin was shroud in a tight bandage; walking for the next five days was out of the question.
Sigruu insisted upon buying me a glass of wine to say thank you. Then later on in the evening her and her husband joined us at a local bar. Hermann insisting upon buying a pitch of Sangria to thank me for looking after his wife. They also joined Team Anzac for dinner. I bought two bottles of wine, olives and almonds while we waited for Paella and Pizza. This was my farewell evening.
It was dark when Michael’s alarm went off in our two-bedroom, one-bathroom hostel. On a whim I decided to take the early bus, 7.35am. I quickly packed, said a hurried good-bye and walked out into the cool, dark morning air. I had no water and no food for the trip ahead. On the street I passed a couple of pilgrims with their dog; he was kitted up a doggy-pack. The shops though were all closed. Chiarra was also at the termibus, continuing the Way to Belorado by bus.
Once more calling on the Spirit of St James…
Discerning which bus to take without Spanish was not easy. I felt the Spirit of St James was with me that day as somehow I learnt that in order to get to Bilbao, I first had to catch the bus to Haro. Thankfully I could buy a ticket on the bus however, at Haro I had to purchase a ticket for the next leg of the journey to Bilbao. At the station I was also able to purchase juice, water and some snacks.
As the bus left the plains of central Spain and climbed up into the mountain ranges I put on my iPod, listening to Dire Straits, Wild West End uncontrollable tears rolled down my checks.
The Bilbao termibus is a collection of prefabricated square buildings, which are laid out to form a large dismal square. Scanning the chaotic scene I spied someone who not only looked as bewildered as myself but was also a Camino Way walker. He was standing in line to purchase a ticket. Fortunately the lady behind him spoke English and realising we were both lost she kindly helped us locate the correct ticket boxes. I bought a ticket to Biarritz then realized I probably should have bought one to Bayonne (the next city). It was 11.30am and the bus didn’t leave until 1.30pm. I had a coffee in the grungy American-theme café. Spending three hours here was a depressing thought. I decided to catch a taxi to the Guggenheim art museum.
Guggenheim art museum, Bilbao…
Ironically one of the biggest art sculptures at the Guggenheim was Richard Long’s The Walk, thick pieces of flint placed together to form a vast steely black circle on the floor. I hobbled around the circle listening to the recording of Long’s voice explaining his theory that walking is a form of art. In contemplating this ideal I’ve looked down at my still bruised and battered feet, decided when life is smooth sailing it is easy to enter a Zen state of mind and equate art and life as one. However, when moving through the day is akin to fighting an oncoming wind or gale, the mind enters survival mode. The walking subject may have been significant but I was incapable of digesting the ideal. I was though really happy to be able to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the architecture.
Bilbao (Spain) to Lucq de Bearn (France)
Back at the termibus, I boarded my next bus. This was a coastal bus journey, through the Spanish towns of San Sebastián, Irun and then over the border to France and Hendaye, Saint-Jean-du-Luz Biarritz and Bayonne. The bus tickets had corresponding seat numbers. Unlike the previous buses nobody sat in a different seat. My travelling companion changed at San Sebastián; the large, old lady got off and for some reason got back onto a different seat. My new companion was a thirty-something English guy who had lived for some years in Australia. He was not only great company but also an answer to a prayer.
I had bought my ticket to Biarritz thinking I could get a bus to Navarrenx but this was not a straightforward option as the bus needed to be pre-booked. The best option was catching a train from Bayonne to Orthez and asking Randall to pick me up. My new travel companion, Jim suggested I simply stay on the bus. Given there had been a driver change at San Sebastián and they didn’t check tickets when people get off the bus, I decided to stay on the bus.
Jim even accompanied me on the walk across the long bridge to the Bayonne train station. In the spirit of St James my train departed twenty minutes later.
It had been a twelve-hour travel day, but I was back in France with friends who were more than happy for me to stay and let the healing process begin.
I undertook the journey back from Spain seventeen days ago. I realise blogging should be more current…the brief update is…
Lisa and Michael are waking up this morning in Ponferrada although it seems they have once again being temporarily parted from Dean. They have 205kms and 9 days to go. My friend and Osteopath Randall thinks I may not have fractured my coccyx but torn a ligament. The war wounds on the heels of my feet and my toes are fading, but my feet are a long way from been summer-ready. I now can wear shoes however; a 20km walk would see my heels in shreds again. Unfortunately I am still hobbling as opposed to walking.
Today I finally leave the South-West of France; firstly to Paris and then home. I have however, had another adventure during the interim seventeen days – I will blog about this trip soon.
4 Responses to “The Way of Saint James: a whim and a prayer”
Anthea you are a legend! I’ve just caught up on the last few weeks of your trip. You’ve written so vividly. Safe travels and debrief soon x
Thanks for the feedback Caroline; really appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you again. x
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Thanks – really appreciate the feedback.
I’m using The Theme Foundry’s Watson design – looked at what seemed like hundreds but this one suited the vision I had for my blog. Sorry its taken a few weeks to reply but hope this is helpful.