Sunday afternoon – we have been on the road for a week now, with a rest day. Tomorrow we will walk to Santo Domingo de Calzada, about 4 or 5 miles and take a bus to Burgos from there. We have a fair amount of distance to make up, because we plan to meet Regina in Sahagun on Saturday — it would take us at least ten days to walk there at our current pace.
At the moment, we are tucked into our large, cozy (if chilly — mid-60s degrees) room, with quilts, a huge gilt-framed mirror, oriental rugs over the decorative tiles on the floor, paintings on the walls, beamed and plastered ceiling. The Casa Victoria, as with most places we have stayed, is spotless. The wonderful woman who has been helping us transfer my backpack each day with JacoTrans, Pilar by name, recommended it. I promised that I would let people know how helpful she has been — it’s like having a fabulous travel agent. Yesterday she called and made the reservation here for me because the owners don’t speak English. It was also helpful of her because the phone number listed for the place in my Brierly’s guidebook was entirely wrong.
Just outside our second story window which opens onto the town plaza, a large stage has been set up, and an area group is singing Aires de Najerilla — songs of the Najerilla region (from about 6:00 to 7:00 in the evening). It’s a nine-day festival for the Virgin and to give thanks (Fiestas de Virgen de gracias). The songs often start with a sort of screech that’s very like cowboy music — aiyiyiyiai!! Some of the songs make me want to dance (but no-one in the square is dancing); others are more sorrowful. One song mentioned peregrinos and the Camino. Lots of clapping. The instruments include a guitar, a mandolin, a tambourine; the four men and two women range in age from mid-30s to mid-70s. The plaza’s benches are lined with 40 or 50 people bundled up against the cool breeze. Kids are running around the open area, and a dozen or more people are clustered by the bar drinking beer. Occasionally sounds like fireworks accent the music.
As we walked into town we saw the procession coming from the church carrying a large statue of the Virgin Mary,dressed in white satin robes around the plaza. When we went into the church, half a dozen ladies were sitting in the pews chatting; a young woman was sitting up near the altar, playing a guitar and singing hymns to Mary. It smelled of lilies from the huge bouquet on the altar.
We ate lunch at the Bar Jacobeo, bocadillos as always, but satisfying with big chunks of cheese, and plenty of tomatoes. Back in the plaza, we watched the puppet show, “The Adventures of Jonasin,” that involved a great deal of battering about among the characters.
From the first floor (about 7:00 p.m.) we can smell dinner cooking. Maria and Francisco who own the place, offered to cook dinner for us — because of the festival, the Bar Jacobeo where we ate lunch, won’t be serving dinner.
Ciruena is near the top of another hill – we climbed about 1,000 feet today on our way up from Najera. Twenty-five people live in the town (all of the others who are here now came for the festival), and make their living from pilgrims primarily, I think. On the outskirts is a modern golf course (Rioja Alta campo de golf), and blocks and blocks of mostly empty condos for vacationers.
The walk was pleasant — never too hot, and mostly not too steep. The pilgrims’ wind blew against us from the west; when it died down a bit it carried the late summer scents of cut hay and green things. We were rarely out of sight of other peregrinos, cyclists or walkers, and sometimes walked along with them for a ways before they left us behind. The morning stop was in Azofra, another small town that might have died had it not been for the Camino. The early morning thoughts I’d had wondering why I was doing this had been dissipating in the early sunshine, but were completely eliminated by the coffee and croissant consumed at an outside table.
Later in the evening — Music again outside our room — this time, Spanish DJ with Spanish-flavored rock — perfect for dancing, and people are doing just that, both grownups and kids. It’s gotten chillier, so the dancing is well-timed. The DJ was playing the SpongeBob SquarePants theme (in Spanish) and stopping to get the kids to yell “SpongeBob! . . . SquarePants!”
We dined in Maria and Francisco’s “great room” — a table for six set up in their living room, open to a small kitchen. The TV was on in the background, with no sound. Our dinner companions were three lively Italians, especially Pasquale whose eyes got brighter and gestures more animated as the bottle of Rioja wine was emptied, and another one brought out. Maria, a little serious but so warm, and Francisco, with his white hair and constant dimple, stood and talked to us through the whole meal, as they served the various dishes — first a salad with white asparagus (a specialty of the area; we passed a few fields a couple of days ago), tomatoes, lettuce, onions and green olives. Next, the segundo — for me, a dish of mixed vegetables from a jar; for the others potato omelets (called tortillas here). Dessert was a large bowl of whole fruit — nectarines, pears, apples, peaches. Francisco encouraged me to take a peach — it came from a tree that produced only 3 per year, he said. We followed the example of the Italians and peeled the fruit with the knife provided, then cut sections off and ate them with our fingers. The wine was a red Rioja served in lovely glasses (Maria said that they were for Rioja wine), and after dinner Francisco brought out a coffee liqueur from Santiago and poured it into little tea cups (special for the pilgrims, they said). We liked the liqueur even better than the wine. [In Galicia, we discovered that this is orujo, which is made in a variety of flavors.]
We went out into the plaza to photograph the dancers, then discovered a gorgeous sunset. Up to the terrace outside the laundry room (yes, washing machine for 2 euros — we did do a whole batch and then set the clothes out to dry in the fresh mountain air) to take more pictures. Maria joined us and said that when she was a child, people said of a sky like this that it was the Virgin Mary putting her laundry out to dry.
It was not too painful a walk (except for Anthea, whose arch was bothering her still). As we walk, we stop now and then to take pictures, and as the day progresses, for drinks of water. We stop often to adjust clothes to suit the weather– put on a scarf, take off a sweater, pull out the hat and put on sunscreen. It was cold enough this morning for light gloves; by 1:15 when we arrived in Ciruena our main interest was not getting any more sunburn.
Time for bed (nearly 11:00). Maria and Francisco are serving us breakfast at 7:00 a.m. so that we can get an early start for Santo Domingo.
Vaya con Dios to all of our friends, and have a great start to your week.
A look back to the land behind us, going from Azofra to Ciruena.
A giant pile of hay bales, eleven high. We can’t figure out how that get them stacked up there.
A handful of tiny black raspberries (orange rosehips in the background).
Bindweed along the roadside (cousin to morning glory).
Jim and Anthea relaxing on concrete chairs set out for the pilgrims at a rest area near Ciruena.
Edge of the golf course. Maria and Francisco (our hosts) said that the Camino used to go through this area, but was re-routed to accommodate the golf course.
The statue of Mary being carried back into the church after the procession around the square.
A vendor setting up for the festival at the square in Ciruena.
Jonasin encounters a car.
A happy crowd.
A classic Spanish woman (but you could see her in any Mediterranean country).
Our very pleasant room.
Dinner at Casa Victoria.
We were served with the finest china and glasses that they had to offer.
Dancing to the DJ in the evening.
Sunset in Ciruena, September 2, 2012.