Perhaps this is a good time to talk about footwear – very important when you are hiking long distance. Marie had a pair of Merrill water proof hikers she wore. They were light weight but not quite high enough to prevent water coming in on occasion. I had a pair of Vasque Breeze water proof hiking boots that I was very happy with. They were taller but heavier and took longer to put on with the long skate like laces. Some people wore simple sneakers. Others wore full hiking boots that were very solid but too heavy. We would frequently see hiking boots discarded that someone had got tired of.
Foot care was important. I already mentioned the Vaseline. I wore merino wool socks inside my Vasque’s and had no blisters the whole time – just hot and tired feet. Marie had to content with blisters and find special bandages. A product called “second skin” and foot pads were helpful and generally available in the many pharmacias in the towns along the way. Now we know why feet, sandals and dust is mentioned in the Bible so often. When you walk everywhere, feet are important and must be properly cared for.
We were now about 145 km from our start in Pamplona. After a restful night in Najera, Marie decided to take the bus and rest her blistered feet another day. I was feeling good so decided to walk solo to Santo Domingo de la Calzada – 21 km. We would meet at the refugio. I was a little wary but the bus ride seemed straight forward. So off we set on our own.
Most of this stage was on wide country tracks passing through remote and generally undulating vineyards and farmland – Rioja. I remember hearing cuckoo birds in the trees along the way but could not spot them for a photo. I made good time, nodding to other pilgrims that I passed. Continuing on, I came into what appeared to be a small deserted town called Ciruena. There were dozens of new houses, a community swimming pool, paved streets and no people. I thought this very strange. Looking at the map now, it turns out that there is a golf course there called the Rioja Alta. So this must have been a golf course development that failed to take off or perhaps it was still early in the season or something. Bizarre and eerie!
Heading out of town the path became gravelly – yellow sandstone I think. I was glad I had on my Vasque’s as I did not feel the lose rocks at all. Suddenly in front of me I see a younger man hobbling slowly. As I come up to him, I see he is wearing flip flops – yes flip flops! I asked him if he was OK. He explained that his feet were so swollen he could not get his hiking boots on that day and was walking painfully in his flip flops. So I slowed down and we walked the remaining 5 km together.
His name was Pekka and he was from Bavaria. We talked about the Camino, our working lives, relationships, hobbies, whatever. He told me his town has a much better Octoberfest than Munich and that I should come sometime. His English was very good as was that of all the Germans we met. I enjoyed our conversation and thought nothing of it. We made it to the refugio and checked in. Marie was there and in good spirits. That evening or perhaps in the morning, Pekka came up to me and thanked me for walking with him as it took his mind of his pain. I felt honoured that he so appreciated our time together.
Marie counseled him to stay and go see a doctor about his swollen feet and blisters. So we said our goodbyes for now. Turns out he was a very popular guy, liked to joke and we met many others who knew him. I don’t think we met again but we are still connected on Facebook. A special guy and experience for sure.
I almost forgot to mention the famous miracle that took place in Santo Domingo de la Calzada that involves a rooster and a chicken. The legend goes that in the 14th century, a German 18-year-old named Hugonell, goes on pilgrimage to Santiago with his parents. A Spanish girl at the hostel where they were staying makes sexual advances toward Hugonell; Hugonell rejects her advances. Angry at this, the girl hides a silver cup in the German’s bag and then informs the authorities that the youth had taken it. Hugonell is sentenced to the gallows in accordance with the laws of the time.
The parents sadly decide to examine their son’s body, still hanging on the gallows, but suddenly hear his voice – he tells them that Saint Dominic the founder of Santo Domingo, has saved his life. His parents quickly make their way to Santiago to see the magistrate and tell him. The magistrate, who is at the time eating dinner, remarks: “Your son is as alive as this rooster and chicken that I was feasting on before you interrupted me.” And in that moment, the two birds jump from the plate and begin to sing and crow happily.