Camino de Santiago: Day 12, Cirueña, Spain
Distance from Ventosa to Cirueña, Spain 29.15 kilometers
Preface: Let me begin by saying that I am writing these trip reports two days in arrears (I hope to get on on schedule soon, but in St. Jean Pier de Port it was Sarah’s birthday and the festivities put us a day behind and … Anyway, today, May 9th, is my birthday and we arrived in Villafranca a few hours ago and the restaurant next to our hotel was full of good people and good food and good wine and …, anyway, here the update from Ventosa to Cireuña, Spain. No excuses. As Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” (Editing to come when we return to Laos)
We didn’t set an alarm, but at six AM we were roused from sleep by the sounds of Gregorian chanting emanating from the church above that washed over the tiny town of Ventosa. The a-cappella sounds emanating from “above” were a calming and peaceful way to great to start the day. It almost made me feel all properly aligned and holy. Beautiful music. It was cold in our room, because apparently we can’t figure out the radiator heat schedule, but it was good motivation to get out and start the day.
The weather looked promising, with shafts of sun shining through breaks in the clouds, but there was, again, a persistent drizzle as we walked out of the door. Luckily we had applied rain jackets and several layers of clothing to protect us from the elements. We began walking.
Here the Spanish countryside seems to open up and offer more and more spectacular views, but settlements seem to be further and further apart. At a morning restaurant (nighttime bar) on the outskirts of Nájera, the menu offered migas, but ultimately I had to “settle” for café con leche and a Spanish omelette. Honestly, when walking in from the east, Nájera wasn’t that impressive, but after crossing the river and looking back, it was quite a pretty little place. Sometimes it is all about perspective.
We were walking with a couple that we had met at the guesthouse in Ventosa. They were mid-twenties, from the United States, and had been traveling the world together for several months. They were good company and I enjoyed talking with each of them about their lives and what possessed them to begin seeing the world. They were both from solidly middle-class, middle-America, backgrounds, but they had discovered that there is a wonderfully diverse and interesting world beyond the limitations of the US borders, and they were determined to see as much of it as they could. They were also trying to balance society’s and their family’s expectations with their own desire to live life outside of conventional boundaries and, to me, it appeared they were winning. It was refreshing to see.
We walked a few more hours and stopped in the tiny town of Azofra for lunch. Here we met a man who had set out walking the Road to Santiago from Paris a few months earlier. When we asked why he, at what must have been the age of seventy, wanted to walk halfway across a continent, starting in the cold of late winter, he simple said, “It is something I wanted to do. I am my own person. I wanted to walk so I started walking.”
Toward mid-afternoon, after walking through bare vineyards and wheat fields, we were exhausted when we spotted the outskirts of Cirueña. Even from a distance we could tell it was a creepy little town. There was a golf course and an expanse of modern homes and apartments, with no one living inside. There were playgrounds with no children, a school with no students and parks with no one inside. Everything was well kept and manicured, but there was, no one around. It was like a neutron bomb had been dropped erasing all of the people, but leaving the structures intact. It looked like a dystopian paradise dreamed of by some mad real estate developer.
We walked through this area and found the old center on which everything else was based, but it wasn’t much better. There was an abandoned looking church with a clock about six hours out of true. Crumbling old houses, half brick, half encroaching fields of weeds where living rooms should have been and alleyways unfit even for stray dogs. It was too far to walk to the next village so we tried what was advertised as the “best” albergue in Cirueña, but it was full (even though we saw no one around).
We tried our second choice and were met by this crazy artist looking guy who said he had only four beds left – we were still with the young Americans – but, nothing together and we would have to all sleep separate. We asked if he had private rooms and he said he had two, available for €10 euros each, on the third floor, behind the “chapel”. We said we would take them, sight unseen, and sat down on the sofa, with the dogs, in the lounge to wait while “the artist” attended to other business. When he returned he was distressed to see four travelers sitting with the dogs and he told us to get up and sit on the plastic chairs in the kitchen while he checked us in. We were too “stinky” to sit with the dogs.
After the formalities, skeptical, and a little worried, we followed him up the stairs, through “the chapel” to our room which had only a bare bulb for light, a hard-spring mattress, a single wool blanket and a double sheet. It was austere to say the least, but it looked clean and smelled of must and bleach. Having no other viable choices for the night we took it.